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Will Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman Survive his Party’s Latest Scandal?

Avigdor Lieberman

On Thursday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Israel Beitenu party, left Israel for Paris, France, quietly, without an official announcement. When asked, his spokesman said the trip was on “Foreign ministry business.” But as the daily Ma’ariv pointed out earlier this weekend, no one is at the office in Paris, seeing as this is the week of Christmas. Which led to speculation that Lieberman was meeting with a Muslim, likely a minister from one of the Gulf states, to discuss his peace initiative.

Having arrived at the end of his troika with the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, Lieberman has been touting his willingness to join a Labor-led coalition after the March elections, and what better dowry to bring to such a coalition than a secret peace agreement with the Gulf states?

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But a competing, stubborn rumor in Israeli political discussion forums, soon to find its expression in Israel’s daily newspapers and television news, is the notion that Avigdor Lieberman always leaves the home country when his party is newly mired in a political corruption scandal, making himself conveniently unavailable to those pesky police investigators.

Except this time it isn’t one underling who’s gotten himself or herself in trouble, it’s the whole shebang. With the exception of two members—ministers Yair Shamir and Uzi Landau (who were slated to be dropped from the next Knesset list)—it looks like everybody under Boss Lieberman has been touched.

Police continue to investigate the corruption case, involving an Israel Beitenu Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, and former Israel Beitenu Minister Stas Misezhnikov. This week, police will carry out another wave of arrests as part of the investigation. These additional arrests may turn up new scandals, – in addition to the 15 uncovered so far. Police have announced they already flipped two state witnesses, and they’re trying to recruit more.

Police expect to round up more suspects for questioning this week, all of whom are directly related to Kirshenbaum herself, as well as to heads of associations and municipalities whop have already been arrested. When they’ve gotten all they can out of the smaller fish in this pond, police will presumably turn their attention to the sharks, starting with Kirshenbaum and going up the line to Lieberman.

On Wednesday, Kirshenbaum was summoned for an initial questioning and was then let go without a charge made against her, since, as a Knesset Member, she is immune from prosecution. Police suspect that she transferred large sums of taxpayer money, through the government budget, to regional councils and associations, as well as to a host of public officials. In return, police suspect, Kirshenbaum received financial bribes and other benefits.

It’s interesting to know that the Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, who is in charge of Israel’s police force, is a member of Kirshenbaum’s party, answering to Boss Lieberman. So you see why this is bound to be a barrel of fun-loving monkeys.

The official police line, so far, is that Lieberman is not included in the current investigation scenario. But at the same time police are suggesting that every single ministry run by Israel Beitenu ministers followed the same corrupt pattern — the ministry sends money to the organizations in the field which then kick back a percentage to the bosses.

One reporter on Israel TV’s Channel 2 News said last night that if Lieberman knew about this corruption it spells bad news for him, but if he didn’t know it spells even worse news, because as party boss you’re expected to know.



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