Could corruption trial stop the rise of the black sheep of Israeli politics?

 

Jerusalem

Described once by an American magazine editor as a "neo-fascist" and a "certified gangster", Israel's firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is no stranger to controversy. It has not stopped him from building up a devoted following that has propelled his party to the forefront of Israeli politics.

But as a more than decade-long corruption probe nears its conclusion, even this canny political survivor may find that this is one controversy he cannot so easily dodge.

Mr Lieberman's lawyers will today attend the start of a two-day hearing to defend their client against charges of money-laundering, fraud, breach of trust, and witness tampering, following which the Attorney General will decide whether to launch formal criminal proceedings, a decision expected to take several weeks. If indicted, as Israeli analysts anticipate, the Foreign Minister, who founded and heads the ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home), is expected to quit his post in government, leaving some wondering if it will mark the beginning of his exile in the political wilderness.

But to write off the Moldovan-born politician would be to underestimate him. A derided figure abroad, he is a politician of some stature in Israel, where he commands a strong following from Russian immigrants, as well as drawing support from right-wing secularists who view the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party as too centrist.

The charges centre on the alleged funnelling of millions of shekels to shell companies controlled by Mr Lieberman during his time as a politician between 2001-2008 in apparent contravention of rules barring lawmakers from engaging in business activities or receiving funds outside of their salaries.

Publicly, Mr Lieberman has appeared typically unfazed by the charges, maintaining that he "always acted in accordance with the law". His supporters say it is no coincidence that the case against him was revived shortly before the 2009 elections, where his party won 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, making him kingmaker in the new government.

A former nightclub bouncer with a conviction for assaulting a child, Mr Lieberman began his career with Likud before forming his own party in 1999. Over the next decade, he held a series of government posts, but never for very long because of his fiery temper.

In the 2009 elections, he tapped into a growing nationalist fervour, campaigning on a platform that all Israelis should swear an oath of loyalty to the state, arguing that the Jewish State faced dangers not just from outside but also from its Israeli Arab minority, some 20 per cent of the population. While favouring a two-state solution, he went one step further, suggesting that Israeli Arab communities be transferred to a Palestinian state, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank, regarded as illegal under international law, become part of Israel.

For some, his anti-Arab rhetoric is part of the appeal. He once called for the execution of Israel's Arab politicians for meeting with members of the Islamist party Hamas and said he would gladly see Palestinian prisoners drowned in the Dead Sea.

Under Mr Lieberman, Israel's relations with erstwhile ally Turkey deteriorated to the extent that Ankara called for his dismissal, while European and US officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly refuse to meet with him.

But predictions that Mr Lieberman will depart the stage may yet be premature. Even if he faces trial for corruption, few believe he will go to jail. Meanwhile, he will remain leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, and analysts say he will continue to pull the strings so long as his party remains a part of the coalition.

The Israeli electorate has shown forgiveness towards politicians convicted of corruption in the past, says Nadav Peri, a political commentator with Channel 10, noting the example of Aryeh Deri, a former interior minister convicted of bribe-taking, who is planning to return to politics. "Nothing can bury your political career in Israel," he said.

In his words: Avigdor Lieberman

"We must continue to fight Hamas like the United States did with Japan in World War II"

"Israel is under a dual terrorist attack, from within and from without. And terrorism from within is always more dangerous than terrorism from without"

"I think the biggest problem of the 21st century is how to deal with minorities... Every country where you have two languages, two religions and two races, you have conflict"

"Negotiations on the basis for land for peace are a mistake... and will destroy us"

"The dividing line does not run between Jew and Arab. The dividing line is between those who support terror and those who oppose it"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test