After 17 years of investigations and trials, criminal charges were dropped against Israel’s former (and future) foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in a unanimous court decision. Lieberman’s experience forces us to face a serious question: Who is the sovereign in the state of Israel: the people, by means of their elected officials, or bureaucrats who appointed themselves?
I have decided to visit the elected mayor of Nazareth Illit, Shimon Gabso, who is currently under house arrest for corruption charges. I know that I will be accused by some of chasing after votes of Likud Central Committee members; the accusers will try to make me look guilty of corruption. But I am going.
I am not chasing after anybody. I will gain nothing from Gabso, as I believe in his innocence and that this is a classic Dreyfus case. But the real question has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the newly reelected mayor of Nazareth Illit. Just as with Lieberman, the question is: who is sovereign in this state? The electorate who places candidates in office, or a band of self-appointed bureaucrats who proclaim themselves lords of the land?
The lords of the land attempted to prevent the residents of Nazareth Illit from voting for Gabso. But the people of Nazareth Illit – heaven help us – disobeyed the lords of the land and nevertheless elected him. Now the lords are teaching the sovereign – the people – a humiliating lesson.
In a media-saturated operation, they have chosen to arrest Gabso just days after the election. They even had the audacity to demand a court order to distance him from City Hall for 30 days; in other words, precisely the critical days when he is supposed to get his municipal coalition together and begin to work in earnest. As far as they are concerned, Nazareth Illit can go to the dogs. The main thing is that they have the last word. They, not the voters, will remain the sovereign.
These lords must understand that the people have had their say at the ballot box. They must allow Gabso to fulfill the public’s wishes. I deem that all investigations and indictments against elected officials should be postponed until their terms are over. I can say this now because I wrote the same thing in a column about one of the politicians for whom I have nothing but contempt: the post-Amona Ehud Olmert. This is what I wrote in May 2008, in a column entitled “Judicial Tyranny”:
It is not proper to investigate a prime minister while he is in office. Not that I have anything good to say about Ehud Olmert. I know that he is corrupt and I have absolutely no good wishes for the prime minister responsible for Amona. But based on principle, there is a serious flaw in the fact that he is being investigated while in office.
What has actually taken place here is that a very small group of judicial officials – a group that was not elected by the public and whose motives are completely unknown – suddenly decides to investigate the man whom the public has elected to lead the country. In other words, a collection of technocrats has more power than the public. They can depose the officials elected by the public – as they see fit.
I do not know why they have sunk their fangs into Olmert and his unexplained wealth. But that is not important. What is important is that the power to choose leaders has been removed from the public and placed firmly under the control of the “rule of law gang,” as former justice minister Chaim Ramon so aptly described them.
An elected prime minister or government minister should have immunity from police investigations for suspected offenses committed before his election. Unusual cases should be brought before the Knesset, where a special majority would have to authorize an investigation. When the official in question finishes his term of office, the investigation would proceed. The media should be allowed to continue to report on findings pertaining to the case, and the public should be allowed to decide whether to vote for the official once again.
If we do not insist on proper judicial conduct now, we will surely pay for it later when the “rule of law gang” will depose yet another (probably rightist) government.