Meni from Netivot
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 2, 2004
Attorney-General Meni Mazuz is the scion of a long line of distinguished Tunisian rabbis and a product of the Negev development town of Netivot. Nu, az ma?
The answer is that it took an outsider to deal such a blow to the solar plexus of the branja – the unholy alliance of police investigators, prosecutors, investigative journalists, and Supreme Court justices for whom criminal investigations and petitions to the Supreme Court are a form of politics by other means.
Not being a member of the traditional elites, for whom the Supreme Court and the press are the last bastions of unchallenged power, Mazuz does not view himself as entitled to dictate all societal norms by divine right. Rather than seeking to constantly expand his authority, he began his tenure in office by declaring, "I’m not a Rav," and announcing that, unlike all his predecessors since the days when Aharon Barak served as Attorney-General under Menachem Begin, he would not attend every cabinet meeting.
Well, he may be no Rav, but as the descendant of rabbis, he understands very well the distinction between the moral authority of a rabbi and the legal authority of the attorney-general. That distinction, however, is frequently lost on the Supreme Court, which claims for itself a larger role in determining basic societal norms than any other supreme court in the world, and the other actors in the government legal system.
Professor Ruth Gavison has been highly critical of the Supreme Court on just this score: "I don’t think the task of the Supreme Court is to be the final moral authority of society. Nor for that was it appointed, and it is not clear that it is capable of it. . . When the Court seeks to be the highest moral authority, it loses its legitimacy as the ultimate legal authority. . . As a moral authority it is not at all clear that the Supreme Court is to be preferred to Ovadia Yosef."
Following Gavison’s strictures, Mazuz carefully limited his decision in the Sharon file to the narrow legal question: Does the evidence support a conclusion of bribery beyond all reasonable doubt? That approach was roundly criticized by leaders of the legal establishment. Retired Justice Yitzchak Zamir charged Mazuz with having opened the doors to bribery of public officials by focusing on the narrow legal question. And former Justice Minister Prof. Amnon Rubinstein argued that the Attorney-General is not permitted to limit himself to the narrow question of whether or nor a crime was committed, but must take into account public norms.
In other words, the Attorney-General’s job is not to enforce the law but to impose proper standards. That is why the branja is so unrepentant over the long series of failed prosecutions of public figures, including that of Yaacov Neeman deliberately stitched together to remove an undesirable outsider as Justice Minister. In its view, the defendants deserved their public humiliation and huge legal fees for raising suspicions in the eyes of the branja. That too is clearly the view of MKs Yossi Sarid and Eitan Cabel. They prepared their petitions against Mazuz’s decision without bothering to read his analysis of the evidence, and knowing that even an indictment would force the resignation of a prime minister elected by a landslide.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Meni Mazuz from Netivot not only for exposing the corruption at the core of the State Attorney’s office, but also for reminding us that in a democracy the legal system is supposed to enforce legal norms enacted by the Knesset and leave for irate voters the enforcement of a higher morality on public officials.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Israeli Supreme Court
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