Two Israeli politicians — former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and MK Hanin Zoabi — have been under the political and judicial microscope lately. A review of their cases provides a good microcosm of the workings of a liberal democracy as well as a parody of liberal hypocrisy.
Lieberman, whose meteoric political career has been clouded by suspicions of corruption, is finally about to be indicted. The timing is not coincidental; it followed the merger of his Yisrael Beytenu party with Likud ahead of the coming Knesset elections.
For the past 16 years, investigations into Lieberman’s alleged money-laundering and other wrongdoings have not produced enough evidence to accuse him of any crime. Suddenly, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has something “concrete.”
In 2008, Israeli ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh gave Lieberman (at the time a Knesset member) a note informing him that the Israeli Justice Ministry was seeking help from the Belarusian authorities to obtain evidence against him.
Lieberman flushed the note down the toilet, but failed to tell Ben Aryeh’s bosses at the Foreign Ministry that he had done this unethical thing. It was for this that he was about to be indicted, until a few days ago, when the attorney-general came up with a stiffer accusation: that after becoming Foreign Minister, Lieberman repaid Ben Aryeh with appointments.
Lieberman’s response to the abrupt brouhaha was to resign from his posts as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. He is pushing for an expedited trial, hoping to be acquitted in time for the Jan. 22 election. It is unclear whether he will be able to do this. Furthermore, if it is determined that his actions involved “moral turpitude,” Lieberman will not be able to hold political office for seven years.
Zoabi is an Israeli Arab from the anti-Zionist Balad party. Not only does she oppose Israel as a Jewish state; she openly asserts that Israel — where she enjoys every freedom and benefit that being both an Israeli citizen and a Knesset member afford her — is not a democracy.
In May 2010, Zoabi was among the anti-Israel activists who instigated and participated in the infamous “freedom flotilla” from Turkey to Gaza, during which Israeli soldiers who had entered the ships peacefully to prevent them from reaching their destination, were beaten and thrown overboard. The incident, which left nine activists dead, put a final nail in the coffin of already deteriorating Israel-Turkey relations.
As is the case with the timing of Lieberman’s indictment, it is the coming election that spurred a campaign to prevent Zoabi from being allowed to run. Last week, after much deliberation, the Central Elections Commission finally decided to disqualify her for identifying with terrorist organizations. Its decision was based on a new law according to which anyone who denies Israel’s existence as a Jewish state or who supports violence against it may not be a candidate for the 19th Knesset. Nineteen members of the commission voted in favor of disqualifying Zoabi, nine opposed it, and one abstained. It is as funny as it is sad that a law needed to be forged — and that the Central Elections Commission had to “deliberate” — about treason.
And it should not come as a shocker to anyone familiar with the political map in Israel that Weinstein — who has been going after Lieberman with a vengeance — opposed Zoabi’s disqualification.
Those who worry that Zoabi may not be getting a fair shake from the justice system she considers so unjust should not fret. On Thursday, she appealed to the High Court of Justice to have her disqualification overturned. On Sunday, the judges ruled unanimously that Zoabi can run, which means will undoubtedly be re-elected to the Knesset. You see, it was not her anti-Zionist party that was disqualified; it was only Zoabi herself.
So here we have it: The Jewish-Zionist politician who is under suspicion resigns to clear his name. If he fails to do so, he might go to jail, or at least have to do community service.
Meanwhile, the worst punishment that the anti-Zionist Arab politician who takes pride in her treasonous activities will endure is not being able to continue receiving our tax shekels in salary, no longer having access to inside information about Israel’s affairs.
The good news is that the public is more clear-headed than the courts. This is why Lieberman’s party merger — now called Likud-Beytenu — is polling at 38 seats, while Zoabi’s Balad party will be lucky to retain three.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”