Avigdor Lieberman responded Thursday to the recent indictment of fraud and breach of trust brought against him, saying he has been the target of suspicion and questioning for a long time now. Hinting that he has no intention of resigning, he said he hopes the matter will be settled as soon as possible.
The Attorney General charged that Lieberman used his influence to promote the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus because the ambassador illegally leaked information about an investigation against him.
"The investigation against me has been going on for sixteen years," said Lieberman. "From July 1996 there has not been one day when I was not questioned, suspected or was not an intelligence target."
Lieberman spoke to a crowd of young supporters at a Yisrael Beytenu gathering and tried to explain the details of the case which stemmed from a relationship with the ambassador to Belarus. "In 2008 I was in the opposition and I lead a delegation to the Minsk ghetto. On the visit, the ambassador wanted to see me. I went to the hotel and he handed me an envelope. I looked at it, read it and told him to let go of this nonsense. I threw the envelope into the toilet," Lieberman said.
"If I have to I will pay the price in pride...I want the court to decide as quickly as possible," he said, hinting that that he had no intention of resigning and wanted to focus instead on the upcoming elections.
The indictment garnered strong reactions from a number of MKs and political parties, as some stood behind Lieberman, reminding the public that he is innocent until proven guilty, while others called for his resignation.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Arden came to Lieberman's defense, saying, "We respect the legal system of the State of Israel, but I say to our political rivals - every person, even if he is foreign minister, has the right to prove his innocence. We all wish and are confident that the Foreign Minister will eventually prove his innocence even with the lesser charges."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also came to his defense, pointing out that Lieberman has only been indicted and has not yet been convicted. "I believe in the legal system in Israel and respect it," said Netanyahu. "The right it gives to every citizen in Israel to defend one's self is also granted to Minister Lieberman."
Tzipi Livni's party issued a statement saying Netanyahu should force Lieberman's resignation. "HaTnua calls on the prime minister to act according to the legal norms observed in Israel under which ministers who have been indicted immediately resign from the government," the statement said. "This is what is also expected from Lieberman."
The left leaning Meretz party also said it will go to court in a bid to force the foreign minister to step aside.