A citizen above suspicion
by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 12, 2003
The Israeli media too frequently serves to shield the government legal system from public scrutiny and criticism, either by withholding crucial information from the public or by delegitimizing all criticism of the legal system as an attack on the rule of law. The near total silence of the media about possible tax violations and false financial reports of the Jerusalem Symphony, headed until recently by Yechezkel Beinisch, husband of Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch, provides a classic example of the former technique.
Normally the media is quick to report any investigation of public figures and to detail the suspicions of investigators. The Jerusalem Symphony has already been the subject of three investigations: one by the Broadcast Authority, which partially funded the Symphony; one by the Supervisor of Non-Profit Organizations; and a third by the income tax authorities, who questioned Yechezkel Beinisch under caution. The investigation of the Supervisor of Non-Profit Organizations resulted in the Jerusalem District Court entering an order for the temporary dissolution of the non-profit organization of the Jerusalem Symphony. Yet apart from articles by Maariv investigative journalists Kalman Lipskind and Yoav Yitzchak, a blanket of silence has fallen over these investigations in the other major papers and broadcast media.
The only thing likelier likelier to turn journalists into a pack of sharks circling blood than a potential scandal involving prominent figures is hint of a cover-up. That element is present in this case as well. State Attorney Edna Arbel refused to open a file based on the investigation of the tax authorities, citing her close personal relationship with Justice Dorit Beinisch, who is her chief sponsor for a seat on the Supreme Court. More remarkably, she refused to assign the case to anyone in her office, thereby effectively ending the investigation. Yet again the possibility that a criminal investigation was being dropped for improper personal motives failed to raise the attenae of Yediot Ahronot or Ha’Aretz or any of the major broadcast journalists.
Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who, like Arbel, requires Justice Beinisch’s support if he is to realize his dream of a seat on the Supreme Court, showed himself equally reluctant to investigate her husband. Aviram Bogat, the Supervisor of Non-Profit Organizations, sent an extremely sharp letter to Rubinstein, via the legal advisor to the Interior Ministry, in which he charged Yechezkel Beinisch with having threatened Michal Rosenbaum, the attorney in Bogat’s office in charge of proceedings against the Jerusalem Symphony.
Bogat wrote that Beinisch had threatened Rosenbaum that she would soon be looking for another job if the motion to dissolve the Jerusalem Symphony’s non-profit organization was not withdrawn, adding, "Those threats were accompanied by harsh and embarrassing expressions directed by attorney Beinisch at attorney Rosenbaum in the course of the entire meeting. There is no need to emphasize the seriousness of these matters enumerated above, whose entire purpose was to threaten attorney Rosenbaum in the exercise of her professional duties."
Rubinstein, however, declined to open an investigation, lamely declaring that no one had asked him to do so -- a claim plainly belied by Bogat’s strong letter. The story of Yechezkel Beinisch’s alleged threats and the Attorney-General’s inaction was reported in full only in the haredi weekly Mishpacha.
Similarly, Mishpacha was alone in reporting the suspicions of those close to Bogat that his investigation of the Jerusalem Symphony lay behind Interior Minister Avraham Poraz’s sudden decision to dismiss Bogat from his post as Supervisor of Non-Profit Organizations – an office that Bogat has transformed from a sleepy backwater to one of the most highly professional in the government. Sources close to Bogat told Mishpacha that "from the moment that Bogat published his conclusions concerning Beinisch’s activities running the Jerusalem Symphony, there was a complete break in relations with Poraz." Despite the fact that Bogat is known to have very good media connections, no mainstream media outlet picked up the connection between Poraz’s attempt to dismiss him and the Beinisch investigation.
The refusal of State Attorney Arbel and Attorney General Rubinstein to investigate Yechezkel Beinisch’s handling of the finances of the Jerusalem Symphony or his alleged threats to have Attorney Michal Rosenbaum dismissed from her job was not the last of their assistance to him. Beinisch brought a libel suit against the Broadcast Authority. Such suits against governmental agencies and employees acting in their official capacities are routinely defended the State Attorney’s office.
In this case, however, the Broadcast Authority was forced to hire a private attorney after receiving the cold shoulder from State Attorney Edna Arbel. Only when the Broadcast Authority filed its answer, did the State Attorneys office attempt to intervene and force a withdrawal of the answer, which contained many damaging allegations about Yechezkel Beinisch. Again, this unusual behavior of the State Attorneys office elicited no curiosity in Yediot Aharanot, Ha’aretz, or the broadcast media.
Equally curious was the intervention of The Movement for Quality in Government on behalf of Yechezkel Beinisch. The Movement sent a report highly critical of the investigation of Reuma Avishai, Comptroller of the Broadcast Authority, to the Board of the Broadcast Authority, the Attorney General, and State Comptroller, without, according to Avishai, ever affording her a chance to respond.
Investigative journalists love a mystery and uncovering the real motives behind unusual behavior. Yet, in this case, nobody seemed the slightest bit curious as to why the Movement for Quality Government should have taken on the role of defender of Yechezkel Beinisch, who was hardly without the means or access to attorneys to defend himself.
At least one investigative journalist noted an apparent conflict of interest between The Movement for Quality Government’s service on behalf of Yechezkel Beinisch and the fact that Beinisch’s wife is presently a member of the panel that will decide The Movement’s petition to remove Tzachi Hanegbi as Minister of Internal Security. Yoav Yitzchak wrote to the President of the Court pointing out the problem.
Justice Beinisch responded that there was no reason for her to recuse herself since The Movement for Quality Government does not formally represent her husband. Unfortunately, for that claim, the Rules of Judicial Ethics make no distinction between direct and indirect representation, and it is hard to imagine that The Movement intervened without being approached by Yechezkel Beinisch.
For his efforts, Yitzchak received a thinly veiled warning from Justice Beinisch. She accused him of attempting to improperly influence judicial proceedings, and for good measure added that his letter to the Court President might constitute a criminal violation.
Perhaps refusals by Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves as required by the rules of judicial ethics are so frequent as to be no longer considered newsworthy. But journalists are usually quick to man the barricades on behalf of colleagues under threat, as demonstrated by the outraged reaction to the investigation of Ha’aretz investigative reporter Baruch Kra’s publication of leaked documents in the Sharon loan affair. Yitzchak, however, received no such display of support.
The entire affair raises questions about those charged with upholding the rule of law, including Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, State Attorney Edna Arbel, and Justice Dorit Beinisch, as well as those who most vociferously wave the banner of the rule of law, like Interior Minister Avraham Poraz and The Movement for Quality Government. The failure of the mainstream media to raise these questions makes one wonder whether we are living in a banana republic where connections to those in high places render one a citizen above suspicion.
Related Topics: Israeli Supreme Court
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