A civil servant named Shai Nitzan was appointed this morning to be Israel’s next Attorney General. No one would accuse Nitzan, who’s been serving as Deputy AG for some time, of being bad at his job. He is an excellent jurist by most people’s account.
Here’s the problem: Shai Nitzan has been a sworn enemy of National Religious Jews, most emphatically of those of them who reside in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. He is the brain daddy of preventive removal of Jews from their homes, not because of things they’ve done, but because of what he suspects they will do. He’s been known to pick up prominent rabbis for questioning based on their writings (See: Committee Recommends Another Leftist, Anti-Settlements AG).
Again, none of what he did in his various roles at the Ministry of Justice was illegal or even unethical, at least by Israeli standards. The curious part about his appointment is that it was done with the near-unanimous support of the Netanyahu government.
Three of the five parties that formed the current coalition government describe themselves as right wing, and certainly as friends of the settlement movement: Likud, Israel Beiteinu and Jewish Home. In any normal democratic system, where a correlation exists between the will of the voter and the direction of the government, Shai Nitzan would not have been proposed, much less approved for a position that gives him—literally—the power of life and death over a population of close to half a million people which he detests on ideological grounds.
In the democratic West, this kind of corruption of the will of the voter—and the settlement movement could share with you thousands of stories, believe me—is possible only in Israel. But this particular plot gets thicker.
Mk Avigdor Lieberman, boss of the Israel Beiteinu party, was recently acquitted by a panel of three magistrate court judges of all charges of political corruption. Liebrman had given up his ministerial office for the duration of his trial, and after the unanimous acquittal was reinstated. But it was decided that he couldn’t vote today, because the current AG, Yehuda Weinstein, hasn’t yet decided whether or not to appeal the acquittal. It seemed more ethical that way.
Except that the committee that recommended Shai Nitzan for the job was chaired by… AG Yehuda Weinstein.
In other words, a civil servant, Weinstein, can prevent an elected official from voting on his recommendation even though said public official is not only innocent until proved guilty – he is innocent by a unanimous court decision.
I emailed a Lieberman staffer for a comment on this bizarre situation, and he preferred to pass. They don’t need trouble.
Wait, there’s more. The search committee for these high level jobs normally comes back with two to three candidates. It’s a courtesy to the political echelon, but also a reflection of an honest effort to provide elected officials with ample choices. The fact that the Weinstein committee went with a single candidate was a dare to Netanyahu and to the right. And the whole country knew Bibi would blink first.
The folks at the State’s Attorney have dossiers on everyone, and some of the folks in government today, including Netanyahu, have already tasted what it’s like to be dragged like common criminals for questioning in police interrogation rooms. And as any person who’s ever delved into politics knows, there’s always something you did wrong.
The entire country knows that the miraculous transformation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from being the father of Jewish settlement in the liberated territories to the scourge of Gush Katif had to do with a case the civil servants were going to bring him down with, involving the 1999 Greek island scandal, millionaire developer David Appel and Sharon’s son Gilad.
This is why staunch opponents of Nitzan in the government, like Israel Beiteinu’s Yair Shamir and Israel Katz of Likud ended up voting in favor, and why Lieberman played nice and didn’t start trouble for AG Weinstein: they’re afraid of the State’s Attorney’s office and of the police.
Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, whom no one suspects of being a right winger, is to date the bravest reformer of the process by which judges, in all levels of the system, are chosen. His entire term in office was marked by bloody skirmishes between himself and the judicial system. His new, voluminous book, hot off the presses, titled “The Purse and the Sword,” is a well documented attack on his old nemesis, arguing quite successfully that Israel’s democracy is governed not by its elected officials, representatives of the voter—the only legitimate sovereign in a democracy—but by its jurists, led by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General (known here as the government judicial advisor, an innocent title that packs a lot of fang).
I plan to devote a great deal of time in coming days to Prof. Friedman’s book, because it points out Israel’s most severe threat to its democracy and independence. So much so, that I’ve been having a hard time deciding today which vote would bring more harm to the Jewish State, the 5+1 vote to greatly reduce the Iran sanctions, or the Shai Nitzan vote, which placed a staunch enemy of the settlements at the head of the system that may be issued, in a few months, with task of uprooting thousands of Jews from their homes.
Iran’s threat comes from the outside, and as such it may even have a positive effect on Israeli society, uniting it and enhancing its resolve. But the complete control the judiciary has gained over the other branches of government is a seeping cesspool of corruption that may decompose the country from within.