Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.
Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.
He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.
For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.
As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”
Hours after Operation Pillar of Defense came to an end last month, here at the Forward we published an article suggesting that the campaign could boost Hamas. It was early days, but new polling seems to indicate that this scenario is panning out.
The independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) has just published a survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza which shows a “dramatic change in public attitude favoring Hamas.”
The more moderate Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, normally leads in polls, but this one shows that if elections were held now in the West Bank and Gaza, voters would be pretty much evenly split between Fatah and Hamas.
The most remarkable finding of the poll is that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) went up against Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, Haniyeh would win. He would get 48% compared to Abbas’ 45%. Haniyeh would also win if jailed Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, long considered the most popular person in Palestinian politics, entered the race.
Interestingly, even though it doesn’t translate to support for Abbas, satisfaction with his performance has increased following the successful bid at the United Nations. Three months ago satisfaction with Abbas stood at 46%; it now stands at 54%. What does this show? That while the Palestinian public has been impressed by the UN bid, the perceived victory in Operation Pillar of Defense has impacted political consciousness more.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced plans to shed light on the so-called “dark money” groups that spent millions during the 2012 election cycle.
The move follows demands for regulation by good government groups - and by this newspaper.
A proposed rule change that could go into effect by the 2013 elections would force not-for-profit groups that spend more than $10,000 on local and state elections in New York to disclose their donors to the state’s Attorney General.
“There are proposals in Congress to deal with this, they haven’t gone anywhere,” said Viveca Novak, the editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “This is a significant step by a state attorney general to try to address it. New York is just one state, but it’s an important state.”
As was widely noted during the 2012 election cycle, certain nonprofits fall into a quirky regulatory loophole that allows them to make almost unlimited political donations without disclosing where they are getting their money. The phenomenon was the subject of a blockbuster expose by the investigative journalism shop ProPublica, which used the Republican Jewish Coalition as an example of one tax exempt group spending money on the presidential election and not revealing its donors.
In an editorial in the Forward calling for closing the “dark money” loopholes, Jane Eisner highlighted other Jewish groups taking advantage of the loose regulations, including the Emergency Committee for Israel.
Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister and the center left’s “if only” man, is expected to confirm any moment that he won’t be running for Knesset.
Soon after the January 22 election was announced, speculation has abounded that if Olmert made a comeback and pulled together a broad center-left alliance he could actually win and once again become Prime Minister. From there, it was said, the Middle East would be his oyster — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently said that he was close to a deal with Olmert in 2008, intimating that the two could return to this point if Olmert returned.
There was some polling to back up this dream. In fact, it appeared that when Likud decided a month ago to run on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu it was a case of Netanyahu trying to ensure that he would have the most Knesset mandates behind him even if Olmert entered the race.
But then came Operation Pillar of Defense, knocking the issues championed by the center-left — Israeli-Palestinian peace and socio-economic issues — off the public agenda and putting security at the forefront. Even if it was right a couple of weeks ago, the national mood in Israel isn’t right for Olmert now.
And so, for the second time in his career, Olmert leaves us all wondering what could’ve been. What could’ve been on the Israeli-Palestinian front had scandal not forced him out of office when it did? Was he planning on running in the coming elections? If so, what could’ve been during and after the election has it not been for Pillar of Defense?
A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.
The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.
“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”
The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.
Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.
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