(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Revelations of misdoings at the highest levels of government are unfolding at a breathtaking pace.
In one of the more outrageous twists in the ongoing corruption saga involving Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israel Police has alleged that attempts were made to compromise the legal system to protect the prime minister’s wife, Sara, from indictment.
On Tuesday, police claimed that Nir Hefetz, who was a top aide and media consultant to Benjamin Netanyahu, offered ex-judge Hila Gerstl the job of attorney-general in 2015 through an intermediary, on condition she agree to close criminal probes against Sara Netanyahu. Mrs. Netanyahu is suspected of misusing public funds at the couple’s official residence, as well as using government money to pay for private chefs at family events, a caregiver for her father, and weekend electrical work at the couple’s home in Caesarea.
If the police allegations are true, this is a particularly extreme example of how the legal process is subverted by persons in positions of power. Even if the prime minister cannot be tied directly to the bribery attempt, the alleged Hefetz offer gives the public an insight into the inner workings of this government.
Another development connected to the Hefetz story was the role played by Gerstl and present Supreme Court President Esther Hayut in keeping the incident a secret for two years. Gerstl, it turns out, did not report the offer to police, although according to one account she was “appalled” by it. She did tell Justice Hayut what happened. But Hayut also refrained from informing police.
In her defense, Hayut claims there were not enough details made available to her to enable her to go to the police. She also said that she was made privy to the purported Hefetz bribery attempt after Avichai Mandelblit was appointed to the post of attorney-general.
But Hayut’s excuses are not convincing. As one unnamed colleague of Hayut told Haaretz
, “This is not the kind of response expected from the president of the Supreme Court, this is the response of a defendant in small claims court.”
As a justice of the Supreme Court, Hayut was duty bound to meet a higher standard of responsibility than to just avoid committing a crime. Upon hearing that an attempt was made to corrupt justice, Hayut had an obligation to do everything in her power to get to the bottom of the story.
How could she be sure that a similar offer had not been made to Mandelblit? It is difficult to see her continuing as president of the Supreme Court after doubts have been raised about her judgment.
Gerstl’s behavior is just as inexplicable, particularly considering that she served at the time as ombudswoman of the prosecution.
We can only guess why these two high-ranking officials in the legal system failed to initiate an investigation into an alleged attempt by someone close to the prime minister to subvert justice. Perhaps Gerstl and Hayut were afraid to come forward until they were forced to, out of fear that doing so would hurt their chances of promotion.
Corruption persists due to the dynamics of fear: Fear of retribution, fear of falling out of favor, fear that one’s aspirations will not be fulfilled. Corrupt persons in positions of power exploit these fears. The more powerful they are, the less likely they will be challenged. That is why, in the absence of a deep-throat, state’s witnesses are so crucial to breaking political corruption. Maybe Gerstl and Hayut, like many others who must have known, apparently lacked the courage to challenge the corrupt powers that be.
Another possibility is that Gerstl did not want to implicate her friend, who, according to police, was nothing but a messenger for Hefetz.
But neither of these explanations is satisfactory when we are talking about senior judges responsible for defending justice.
There are those who are trying to play down the implications of Gerstl’s and Hayut’s silence. We would agree that the truly corrupt act was the offer, not the failure to report it – if indeed there was an offer. But we would add that corruption flourishes in large part because there are those who see it happening but do nothing.