"When there are no criteria for choosing candidates, this is what happens," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Wednesday, a day after his exclusion from the Yisrael Beytenu candidate list in line with the decision of the party chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman surprised many on Tuesday when he unveiled his party's list for the Jan. 22 elections, as Ayalon has been one the more prominent figures in the party and in the government. Prior to Lieberman's announcement, party members Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and MK Anastassia Michaeli announced their departure from politics.
Ayalon and Lieberman were supposed to meet on Wednesday as both were to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on an overseas trip to Germany. Lieberman did not go because he was battling a cold and was exhausted from the past few days’ candidate selection process, his office said, denying that Lieberman’s absence had anything to do with the political bombshell of jettisoning Ayalon.
"The foreign minister contacted his German counterparts and apologized for not being able to make it," a Lieberman associate told the Israeli media.
Ayalon told Israel Hayom that he "was not personally insulted” and had no hard feelings.
"When I entered politics I accepted the rules of the game; and I accept them now as I leave politics," Ayalon said. "The takeaway from my experience is that politics is a fascinating trade, but lacks job security."
Ayalon categorically dismissed the notion that his fall may have had something to do with his decision to humiliate the Turkish ambassador in 2010 when the latter was summoned to Ayalon's office to convey Israel's displeasure with a Turkish TV show that was perceived as anti-Semitic. During that meeting, Ayalon arranged to have the Turkish envoy sit on a lower couch than others in the room.
Ayalon also stressed that the decision had nothing to do with the personal animosity he reportedly has with Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and his wife, Judy.
Ayalon implicitly criticized Lieberman's tight grip on his party, which was clearly on display in the candidate selection process.
"We [in Israel] have yet to strike the right balance between primaries and an organizing committee, either legally or through our political culture," Ayalon said. "I don’t think having 'vote contractors' [who use questionable tactics to win votes for their candidates] are the proper, democratic way of doing things, but by the same token, when there is no uniform standard [for party primaries], we get such results [as those produced by the Yisrael Beytenu selection process]. I definitely would like to see a much cleaner and more transparent political system emerge as a result of the ongoing political developments in Israel."
Top officials at the Foreign Ministry believe Lieberman's decision to boot Ayalon out stems from the latter being "overly successful." They believe Lieberman could not tolerate being outshone by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was effectively in charge of U.S.-Israeli relations, and by Ayalon, who was making many press appearances that sidelined his boss. As far as Lieberman was concerned, this three-pronged Foreign Ministry had to be dealt with, the sources said. They further noted that Ayalon claimed credit for many of Lieberman's accomplishments by presenting them as his own.
Lieberman reportedly accused Ayalon of leaking confidential information to the Israeli press, and was particularly incensed by his claim that he would replace the foreign minister if the latter was forced to resign due to a possible corruption trial.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein was expected to announce his decision in the Lieberman case as early as Thursday, although it was more likely to be decided on only next week. According to unconfirmed reports, he will likely drop the most damning allegations against Lieberman, including on his alleged money laundering through front companies. The watered-down indictment would reportedly include only one count of breach of trust over Lieberman's efforts to promote the former ambassador to Belarus and have him stationed in Latvia to reward him for not disclosing sensitive information on the investigation against the foreign minister. The attorney-general is said to have rewritten his draft indictment because of a lack of sufficient evidence.
While Ayalon avoided direct criticism of Lieberman on Wednesday, his father, Rafi Ayalon, did not mince words over the treatment of his son. In an interview on an Israeli radio station, he called Lieberman "little Stalin," referring to the late Soviet dictator who ruled with an iron fist. "He sent people to Siberia or killed them if they were perceived as a threat," he said.
"My child is well behaved; when I realized he did not take Lieberman's decision to heart, I was glad," he said. "Danny knows how to get by, I am sure he will manage."