Wednesday, 26 December 2012

'Lieberman Aides Still Running Foreign Ministry with Netanyahu's Approval'

A small group of associates of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who were appointed by him to sensitive positions in his office, has remained to work in the Foreign Ministry even after their boss resigned from his post last week.

The three – his personal spokesman Tzachi Moshe, his office manager Sigi Levy and his secretary Limor Shalel – continue to work even now in the foreign minister’s office. They were appointed as part of the quota of positions of trust and receive their salary and work conditions from the ministry.

Although this is a position of trust, the new acting foreign minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided according to the law to continue to employ them – although he already receives spokesman and office management services from the large staff in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry criticized the move on Monday: “It feels as though Lieberman left his own forward command squad in the office, and the people who were closest to him throughout his term continue to hang around the office and can update him from the inside about what is being done in his absence. From a public point of view it looks very bad, especially in light of the fact that currently, a police investigation is going on regarding Lieberman's functioning as foreign minister, and Netanyahu is choosing to allow the people closest to him to continue working there.”

By law, the three are forbidden to work for Lieberman since his resignation. But in effect, since his resignation took effect, they have also been handling the affairs of the former minister. For example, spokesman Moshe was involved in coordinating the interview that Lieberman gave to Channel 2 News last Thursday, and at the same time, because he is identified as Lieberman’s adviser, reporters continue to turn to him regarding the former minister’s affairs.

“We have nothing to do with Lieberman today,” explains Moshe in response. “There were a few things that were natural, which I was involved in even before Lieberman's resignation, such as the interview with Channel 2. Reporters naturally continue to turn to me to this day and associate me with Lieberman, but I refer them to the spokesman of Yisrael Beitenu, Tal Nahum.” Lieberman is the head of the Yisrael Beitenu party.

Lieberman said in response: “By request of the prime minister, in coordination with the Civil Service Commission and as is usual in such cases, a small staff remains in the foreign minister’s office to handle necessary matters.”

The PMO said: “During the prime minister’s term as acting foreign minister as well, he needs a small and experienced staff to help him with this activity.”

The renewal of the investigation against Lieberman for his professional behavior in the Foreign Ministry is not expected to undermine the demonstration of unity Tuesday evening by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the former foreign minister. Both men are expected to speak at the launch of their joint campaign at the Binyanei Hauma convention center in Jerusalem.

The campaign is kicking off only about three weeks before election day on January 22, and follows criticism leveled by senior party members regarding the absence of activity in the field or messages in the media. Sources involved in the campaign claimed, on the other hand, that a renewal of discussions about construction in Jerusalem and the settlements is part of a quiet campaign being conducted by the party, and was meant to focus the public agenda on the diplomatic-security issue on the eve of the election.

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