The greatest threat to Israeli democracy

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On Wednesday, after the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court cleared Avigdor Liberman of corruption charges, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the not-guilty verdict “ends a persecution that has lasted years.”

The state prosecution first announced it was investigating Liberman for alleged graft in 1996. Since then, he was placed under open-ended investigation after open-ended investigation that never led to an indictment.

Finally, last year Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he was indicting Liberman on corruption charges and so forced his resignation from the Foreign Ministry.

Liberman was indicted for allegedly abusing his power by exerting untoward influence in the appointment of Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh to serve as ambassador to Latvia. From the outset, legal experts raised doubts about whether Liberman’s alleged actions were even a criminal offense.

Liberman’s acquittal puts 17 years of defamatory leaks by state prosecutors in stark, frightening perspective. It was a legal witch-hunt. And in the end, they couldn’t even find his broomstick.

After Netanyahu bemoaned the longstanding persecution of his political comrade, he praised the very same people who undertook the persecution.

“The law enforcement system and the attorney-general,” he gushed, “do their work diligently…. Everyone must continue to respect the legal system to protect the viability of Israeli democracy.”

On its face, Netanyahu’s support for the prosecution makes no sense. If Liberman was the victim of persecution, then why should his persecutors be accorded respect? And if they are respected professionals and guardians of Israel’s democracy, then how could Netanyahu say that Liberman was the victim of a 17- year-long persecution? A possible explanation for Netanyahu’s contradictory statement is that he is afraid of the legal system. After all, these are the people who used innuendo to discredit him in his first term of office and so played a key role in the downfall of his government.

These are the people who nearly brought down Ariel Sharon, and who sent Sharon’s son to prison. These are the people who forced Ehud Olmert’s resignation by indicting him on corruption charges. But so far Olmert has been exonerated in trial after trial. These are the people who turned Tzachi Hanegbi into the political equivalent of a potted plant, ended the career of Haim Ramon, and sent Arye Deri to prison.

What’s not to fear? The legal fraternity’s use of selective prosecution of political and other national leaders has brought about a situation where people the legal fraternity consider threats to their unchecked powers find themselves under a cloud of criminal suspicion, and often removed from office and in the dock. Others, whom the legal fraternity considers allies, can break the laws and abuse their positions without any fear of repercussions.

Last Friday night, the public was shown the depths to which the attorney-general, the state prosecution and the police are willing to sink in order to protect their cronies.

Channel 1’s highly respected political commentator Ayala Hasson interviewed Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz.

Since August 2010, Harpaz has been at the heart of corruption allegations directed against former IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi.

In August 2010, against the backdrop of growing acrimony between Ashkenazi and then-defense minister Ehud Barak, Channel 2’s Amnon Abramovich reported on a document purportedly prepared for Barak by a political consultant. The document laid out a strategy for sullying Ashkenazi’s reputation in the public, strengthening Barak’s popularity, and building support and momentum for Barak’s plan to appoint Maj.-Gen.

Yoav Galant to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of General Staff when Ashkenazi completed his four-year command in February 2011.

The document caused a public outcry against Barak.

But, as the public soon learned, it was a forgery. Harpaz was accused of fabricating the document in order to hurt Barak.

The media castigated Harpaz as a rogue agent – a former associate of Ashkenazi who was acting without Ashkenazi’s permission or knowledge. Even before the police investigation began, Weinstein exonerated Ashkenazi, telling the public that no one in either Ashkenazi’s office or Barak’s office was involved in composing or disseminating the document.

Hasson, who has been one of the only reporters to investigate the story, and has brought scoop after scoop for three years, only to have her work ignored by other reporters, had to wait three years to interview Harpaz, because for three years police barred him from speaking to the media.

Harpaz’s revelations in his interview showed that all of the forged document’s allegations against Barak were nothing more than projection. If Harpaz is telling the truth, and according to Hasson his allegations are backed up by documentary evidence, then it was Ashkenazi, not Barak who abused his power both to defame Barak and to undermine, spy, terrorize and apparently blackmail his subordinates.

If what Harpaz said was true, Ashkenazi acted more like a mafia don, than an army general. He was obsessed with advancing his personal interests at the expense of his perceived competitors and challengers. He used his wife, his personal staff, his spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu, his closest associates including members of the General Staff, and retired senior officers who were his close friends and cronies to harm his nemeses and build a public persona of the greatest military leader in Israel’s history. His success owed not only to their loyalty but to the protective shield placed over him by a private army of sycophantic senior journalists and members of the law enforcement community – including the police high command and the state prosecution.

Harpaz explained that the leaked forged document was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. According to him, Ashkenazi led a smear campaign to criminalize Galant and so block his appointment to succeed Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi had Harpaz meet with residents of Galant’s moshav, Amikam.

They produced documents alleging that Galant had seized public lands without permission. Although the claim amounted to nothing more than an administrative infraction over which then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had no investigative power, Ashkenazi instructed Harpaz to direct the residents to send their information to the state comptroller. And despite the fact that he had no authority to do so, Lindenstrauss opened an investigation. Journalists allied with Ashkenazi wrote devastating attacks against Galant painting him as a rapacious land thief, whose flawed character made him unsuited to command the IDF.

In the event, two years later, the local planning commission responsible for Amikam cleared Galant of all wrongdoing and explained that the claims against him were based on flawed maps.

But that didn’t matter.

In early 2011, Barak brought Galant’s appointment before the government for a vote. He was approved.

Then an environmental group petitioned the High Court demanding that his appointment be rescinded due to the non-criminal allegations against him. In an open demonstration of contempt for the government and its sole authority to select the IDF chief of staff, Weinstein refused to defend the government’s decision before the court.

Galant’s lawful appointment was canceled. In his stead, the government was coerced into appointing Ashkenazi’s close associate, Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, to succeed him.

Weinstein’s mutinous action likely had little to do with the merits of the case against Galant.

As Hasson revealed in February, the head of Weinstein’s bureau, attorney Zehavit Shihrur, is married to Ashkenazi’s closest friend Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shuky Shihrur. During the course of the police investigation into the forged document, Shihrur was implicated in Ashkenazi’s campaign to defame Barak, and allegedly involved in gathering defamatory information about Barak and his advisers. Acting on orders from the police’s high command, investigators were barred from pursuing the information.

Mrs. Shihrur isn’t Weinstein’s only connection to Ashkenazi.

According to a source involved in the story, Channel 2’s Abramovich, who received the forged document from Ashkenazi’s associates, was the primary lobbyist for Weinstein’s appointment to serve as attorney- general.

Ashkenazi’s abuse of his power was not limited to cancelling Galant’s appointment and demonizing his civilian boss. According to Harpaz, Ashkenazi had Harpaz gather embarrassing information about a major-general whom Ashkenazi believed was siding with Barak against him. According to Harpaz, someone working for Ashkenazi photographed the general on the beach with his paramour. The purpose of the photos, Harpaz said, was either “bribery or blackmail.”

In February 2010, Ashkenazi shocked the IDF and the public when he decided to throw one of the IDF’s best field commanders out of the military. In late 2009, Brig.-Gen. Moshe “Chico” Tamir was convicted of unlawfully using army property and other transgressions for allowing his minor son to drive in an IDF all-terrain vehicle without a license, and then covering up his actions after his son had an accident. In his appeal of his conviction, five major-generals unanimously ruled that given his otherwise spotless service record, and the fact that Tamir was one of the most talented field commanders in the army, he should not be prevented from serving in command positions.

Three months after that verdict, Ashkenazi informed Tamir that he would receive no further commissions.

Ashkenazi’s spokesman said that Ashkenazi wanted to send a message to his officers that “any deviation from the values of accountability and honesty is unacceptable in the army.”

According to Harpaz, claiming he was acting in the interests of field security, Ashkenazi read wiretaps of his subordinates’ conversations. Through his use of wiretaps, Ashkenazi learned that in private conversations, Tamir was highly critical of Ashkenazi’s command decisions during the course of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Tamir served as Gaza Division commander during the operation.

His interview with Hasson was not the first time that Harpaz revealed the story of Ashkenazi’s apparent criminal syndicate. In May 2012, Harpaz wrote a letter to Lindenstrauss in which he revealed roughly what he told Hasson last Friday. Lindenstrauss asked Weinstein to open a criminal investigation into Harpaz’s allegations immediately.

Weinstein refused, saying he wouldn’t investigate until Lindenstrauss completed his report on the document Harpaz was accused of forging. In the event, Weinstein only opened an investigation seven months later, and until recently, the investigation was proceeding at a snail’s pace. Considering the allegations presented by Harpaz, last Friday night Prof. Emmanuel Gross from University of Haifa School of Law concluded that in Israel today there is no equality under the law.

Noting that the investigation now only kicking into high gear should have been opened a year-and-a-half ago, Gross said that the investigation has been compromised by the time lag.

To date, the only person who has paid a price for Ashkenazi’s mafia is Galant, and he was a victim, not a perpetrator of this arguably criminal conspiracy in which Israel’s senior law enforcement officers, military commanders and journalists banded together to undermine the authority of the elected government and destroy obstacle in their path.

Can there be any doubt that Netanyahu is scared to criticize Weinstein and his cronies.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post. 

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