As the wheels turn
by Jonathan Rosenblum
May 21, 2004
Recent weeks have been gratifying ones for those who believe that the wheels of justice turn - albeit sometimes slowly. First there was the arrest of former energy minister Gonen Segev on charges of drug trafficking and misusing a diplomatic passport.
Segev's venality is long established. He betrayed voters of the right-wing Tsomet party, who elected him to the Knesset, when he cast the decisive vote ratifying the Oslo Accords in exchange for a government ministry. Segev claims that he was idealistically motivated. Fresh evidence of the nature of his idealism is therefore welcome.
The wheels have also turned for Prof. Yehuda Hiss, at last dismissed from his post as head of the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir. Over the last decade, Hiss has been charged with performing unauthorized autopsies, removing body parts and transferring them to hospitals, and testifying concerning autopsies that he did not perform. That he remained in office this long constitutes a national stain.
Something tells me that the wheels have begun to turn as well for the small clique of Supreme Court justices and a reliably compliant justice minister who have used the judicial selection process to turn the Supreme Court into a self-perpetuating cult, in which dissenting voices, such as that of Prof. Ruth Gavison, are never heard. Though that clique succeeded in ramming through the appointment of State Attorney Edna Arbel to the Supreme Court, the victory may prove to be a Pyrrhic one.
They had to openly flout the recently enacted Bar-On Law, designed to ensure transparency in the deliberations of the judicial selection committee and to prevent appointments being agreed upon in advance by a small cabal. Even Haaretz, usually a reliable defender of Court President Aharon Barak, admitted that legal abilities had little to do with Arbel's appointment, and that the appointment was cooked far in advance.
The judicial appointments committee made no pretense of investigating the serious charges against Arbel leveled by Education Minister Limor Livnat. Livnat claimed that Arbel solicited an appointment to a government directorate for her husband, Uriel, at a time that a number of complaints against Livnat were on Arbel's desk. It is undisputed that Livnat met with Uriel Arbel about the appointment.
NOR WAS that the first time that charges of improper influence on Uriel Arbel's behalf surfaced. According to investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak, former prime Minister Ehud Barak sought to appoint Uriel Arbel to the directorate of Zim Lines, at a time when Edna Arbel was weighing a police recommendation to prosecute Barak for election fraud, and only withdrew the appointment after journalistic revelations.
Even more serious, Arbel was accused, together with former attorney-general Michael Ben Yair, of bringing an indictment against then-justice minister Yaakov Neeman which they knew could not hold up in court. Their goal: to force the resignation of Neeman, an outspoken critic of the government legal system.
The police were not allowed to enter a written recommendation concerning Neeman's prosecution into his file because prosecutors knew that the recommendation would be negative. Worse, the police were not allowed to interrogate the only relevant witness in the case, despite his pleas that they do so, because that testimony would have fully cleared Neeman.
Though Neeman was fully exonerated by the court, which had harsh words of criticism of the prosecution, he was never reinstated as justice minister. Thus those who "fabricated a case against an innocent person and obstructed justice in order to pursue a purely political and ideological agenda," in the words of Ma'ariv editor Amnon Dankner, succeeded in their goal of removing Neeman.
If there is an answer to the charges concerning the Neeman prosecution, we have yet to hear it. Rather defenders of Arbel's appointment have resorted to their familiar ploy of accusing the Knesset Law Committee, which conducted the kind of hearings on the Arbel appointment that the judicial appointments committee avoided, of undermining the rule of law. That ploy, however, is wearing thin. The public is beginning to understand how it is used to stifle democratic oversight of judicial appointments, and any criticism of the Supreme Court.
Last month, a UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission ordered the release on bail of an Algerian asylum seeker whom the court found had ties to al-Qaida and had trained young British Muslims for jihad. Yet, the court accepted the claim of the detainee, who, incidentally, was free to leave England anytime he chose, that indefinite detention was adversely affecting his mental health. And guess what? Home Secretary David Blunkett and others who criticized the decision to release a known security threat as "bonkers" were accused of undermining the rule of law.
Just as it was the lame-brained British judges who discredited the legal system, not their critics, so has the shoving of shoddy goods like Arbel down the throat of the Israeli public done more to undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court than a hundred critics ever could.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Israeli Supreme Court
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