Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman went on a tirade against the Israeli media on Thursday, saying he was unfairly treated in the wake of recent developments in the corruption case against him.
Lieberman was under investigation for over a decade on allegations of financial impropriety. Last week, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced that the main case against Lieberman would be closed, due to lack of sufficient evidence, but that he would indict Lieberman in a secondary case involving the suspected exchange of confidential investigation material for a promotion. The indictment included charges of breach of trust and fraud, prompting Lieberman to resign from the position of foreign minister.
After delivering a speech at the Israel Association of Entrepreneurs conference in Tel Aviv, the former foreign minister was asked by a member of the audience to comment on the "media persecution" he was subjected to. "In Israel, the most basic rule is that you must not succeed; if you succeed, it means you are guilty," Lieberman lamented, referring to those in the media who have criticized him since he was indicted.
According to the indictment, in 2009 then-Foreign Minister Lieberman promoted former Ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh after the latter disclosed sensitive information on the investigation being conducted against him. Despite the damning allegations, the indictment was a far cry from the original draft indictment from about a year ago, which included allegations of money laundering, witness tampering and other counts of fraud and breach of trust.
Following Weinstein's announcement, Lieberman said he was largely vindicated, and denied playing any role in Ben Aryeh's promotion. He also stressed that he had not asked Ben Aryeh to provide him with the sensitive details pertaining to the investigation. Lieberman resigned from the cabinet, saying he wished to have a quick trial that would prove his innocence.
Lieberman hinted Thursday that some members of the Israeli media had rendered a guilty sentence before his trial had even begun and refused to accept that a major part of the indictment was eventually watered down to include only the lesser allegations. "My message, which can apply for any trade — including politics and entrepreneurship — that if you want to succeed, have no fear."
"Channel 10 is blackmailing me and is applying unreasonable pressure on the law enforcement officials who are in charge of my case," Lieberman alleged, referring to the channel's legal correspondent Baruch Kra, who said the allegations in the indictment were damning despite having said the opposite in the early stages of the investigation.
"He [Kra] said in 2010 that if all that's left in the Lieberman case was the so-called ambassador affair he would be the first to say that the charges should be dropped." Lieberman said. He went on to say that Kra had reneged on that promise. "When that happened, when the big case against me was closed he continued to attack all those involved in the case, using blunt threats," Lieberman said.
Lieberman also criticized Yedioth Ahronoth veteran correspondent Nahum Barnea after the latter suggested Lieberman orchestrated the re-appointment of Danny Ayalon as deputy foreign minister (his job was terminated automatically when Lieberman stepped down as minister earlier this week) because Ayalon would make ministry officials speak favorably about Lieberman when the police summon them for questioning (over Lieberman's role in the ambassador affair).
"A respected journalist, who is an indefatigable liar, Nahum Barnea, said in an article two days ago that Danny Ayalon got the boot as deputy foreign minister, and then when the police said they would summon the Foreign Ministry Staffing Committee employees for questioning he was reinstated," Lieberman said. "Barnea wrote this to imply that if Ayalon was fired and then re-appointed his testimony would be distorted in my favor," he continued, before stating that "Ayalon was not fired, he is simply not part of our Knesset candidate list [for the upcoming elections]."
Lieberman also criticized Barnea's reporting on the former's visit to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, during which the former minister's security detail was allegedly rude to a university guard who was from Ethiopian descent and pushed him aggressively. "I would be very happy if Barnea sues me for defamation and for destroying his good name because then the courts, not just myself, would call him the biggest liar in the Israeli press."
Barnea declined a request to comment on Lieberman's accusations.
Channel 10's Kra reacted to Lieberman's accusations on Thursday, saying that "all the news we have reported on Lieberman has been fact checked and confirmed; we would appreciate it if Lieberman could focus his reaction on actual content rather than just floating conspiracy theories."
"We understand that he is disappointed by our unfearful reporting, but that's how things are done in a democracy, and there is nothing he can do about it," he said.
Channel 10 reported that the police have already begun questioning the Foreign Ministry's staffing committee this week, as they said they would do.