Last month, I predicted that those who successfully rammed through the appointment of Edna Arbel to the Supreme Court might come to rue their victory. I did not dream how quickly that would prove true.
Attorney-General Meni Mazuz’s blistering condemnation of Arbel’s modus operandi in drafting an indictment on charges of bribery against Prime Minister Sharon raised anew the issue of her fitness for the Court. Mazuz wondered aloud how it happened that Arbel decided to convene a new team of prosecutors to consider the Sharon-Appel file, after three separate teams of police investigators had recommended closure of the file, and just last December a team of senior prosecutors, with Arbel herself an active participant, reached the identical conclusion. He accused Arbel of targeting Sharon.
Mazuz’s accusations revived memories of how Justice Minister Tommy Lapid and Court President Aharon Barak managed to sweep all doubts about Arbel under the rug before the judicial appointments committee. Already then, the rap sheet on Arbel was a mile long.
On a professional level, the charges include a series of failed prosecutions of public officials and a pattern of leaving open investigative files on leading politicians for many years. On the personal level, they include soliciting appointments to government directorates for her husband from politicians under investigation, receiving a large pension to which she was not entitled, and, according to Yoav Yitzchak, lying about her academic degrees.
The most serious charge against Arbel – that together with then Attorney-General Michael ben-Yair she concocted a baseless prosecution against then Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman in order to remove a dangerous outsider from supervision of the government legal system – gained further credibility last week. Ben-Yair pointed at Arbel as the guilty party, and she pointed back equally vigorously at him. Implicit in the mutual recriminations was the admission that a long dormant file was dusted off against Neeman for ulterior motives. (Actually both Arbel and ben-Yair are implicated up to their chinny-chin-chins.)
The implications of Mazuz’s report extend far beyond Arbel, or even the stature of the Court. Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit compared Mazuz’s findings to those of the Agranat Commission in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The latter revealed that Israel’s entire military doctrine had been predicated on a false conceptzia; the former exposed the failures of all the organs entrusted with verifying the truth, including the State Attorney’s office and the press.
Mazuz demonstrated that many of the leaks from the State Attorney’s office dutifully reported by favored reporters were complete distortions of the actual evidence. His implicit criticism of leading investigative journalists echoed his predecessor Elyakim Rubinstein’s complaints about a symbiotic relationship between police investigators, prosecutors, and journalists based on the principle, "Give me information, and I’ll write favorably about you."
MAZUZ’S ULTIMATE AFFRONT TO THE OLD ELITES is his refusal to use his office as a platform for teaching proper values to the unenlightened. The outsider from Netivot lacks the elite’s sense of divine right to dictate every societal value. The descendant of a long line of rabbis, he knows the difference between the moral authority of a rabbi and the legal authority of the attorney-general – a distinction too frequently blurred by other actors in the legal system, such as Court President Aharon Barak, at great cost to the Court’s legitimacy. He began his tenure with the dry observation that he is not a rabbi.
The legal establishment will not forgive Mazuz his conception of the limitations of his office or his explicit rejection of Arbel’s practice of bringing doubtful prosecutions and leaving it for the courts to decide. Professor Amnon Rubinstein lectured him in print that it is forbidden for him to limit himself to the issue of whether there is a criminal offense; he must concern himself with proper ethics. Retired justice Yitzchak Zamir accused him declaring open season on bribery of public officials by confining himself to the sufficiency of the evidence against the Sharons, pere et fils.
In the view of the establishment, evidence of a crime is at best of secondary concern (unless, of course, it is one of their own – e.g., the late Simcha Dinitz or Arbel or Moshe Mizrachi -- under suspicion). That was certainly the position of MKs Yossi Sarid and Eitan Cabel, who immediately filed petitions in the Supreme Court against Mazuz’s decision, without even bothering to read his findings.
And that explains why the legal establishment is totally unapologetic about the long series of failed prosecutions of public officials. In their view, the humiliations suffered and huge legal bills racked up prior to acquittal are deserved punishments for having violated the establishment’s sense of propriety.
Mazuz deserves our gratitude for exposing the corruption at the heart of the state legal system. Never again can critics of the system be silenced with accusations of undermining the rule of law now that the person at the top of the system has said the same. More important, he has reminded us that in a democracy the role of the legal system is to enforce norms enacted by the Knesset, and to leave the rest to irate voters.