The Galant affair has revived the sense that Israel suffers from an over-abundance of legal interference.
I do not share this critique.
Like many others, I am convinced that Maj-Gen. Yoav Galant is fit to lead the army. His rich experience, his courage, his skills as a commander and a leader are well known to me personally from the various security positions I held on both ministerial and parliamentary levels. I feel for him. And yet, the state institutions responsible for the rule of law must be safeguarded.
THIS PAST decade has seen a sorry saga of legal proceedings against public figures.
In 2000, Israel’s president resigned following an investigation over funds he received from a personal friend, a Jewish businessman. The attorney general decided not to indict him, but the president stepped down, five years before the end of his presidential term.
That same year, the interior minister went to jail, sentenced to a three-year term after being found guilty of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
In 2001, a former defense minister was found guilty of indecent acts under aggravated circumstances, and resigned from the Knesset.
In 2004, an investigation was opened against the public security minister on suspicion of making political appointments during his previous tenure as environmental protection minister. The investigation led to a serious indictment and to the end of his service as a government minister for many years. (In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the said minister is the writer of these lines.) That same year, after a lengthy investigation, the attorney general decided to close the file against the then prime minister in the “Greek Island” affair. The prime minister’s son, himself an MK, was indicted a year later and found guilty of falsifying corporate documents and perjury, and after accepting plea bargain, was imprisoned for seven months.
In 2006, the attorney general decided to investigate claims of rape and
sexual harassment against the then president. The president resigned
from office in June 2007, a month before the end of his term, and was
prosecuted in 2009. In 2010, he was found guilty of two counts of rape,
indecent acts by force, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice.
His sentence has not yet been handed down.
Between 2004 and 2006, six additional MKs were convicted of criminal
offenses: A minister without portfolio was convicted of bribery, fraud
and breach of trust in connection with his relationship with a worker at
the Ministry of the Interior, and was sentenced to six months community
service. A deputy minister was convicted of charges of election fraud,
suborning witnesses, and obstruction of justice in the “City Tower”
affair, and received an eight-month jail term – a sentence which was
later commuted by the president to community service.
An MK who was charged with falsifying an academic paper was found guilty
of fraud in a plea bargain and was fined and placed on probation. Two
MKs who were convicted of breach of trust in the “Double Voting” affair
were sentenced to community service – one for four months and the other
for two months. Another MK who was convicted for, among other things,
fraud under aggravated circumstances and falsifying corporate documents,
was sentenced to three years in jail.
In 2007, the justice minister was investigated in the affair known as
the “kiss in the Prime Minister’s Office.” The minister stepped down
immediately, and was found guilty later that year of committing indecent
acts without consent. The sentence was 120 hours of community service.
In 2008, the labor and social welfare minister was convicted of, among
other things, accepting bribes and breach of trust. The Supreme Court
sentenced him to four years imprisonment.
In 2009, the finance minister was convicted of, among other things,
theft, fraud under aggravated circumstances and money laundering. He was
sentenced to five years and five months imprisonment. A decision on his
appeal over the sentence has yet to be reached.
Between 2007 and 2010, the then prime minister was the subject of six
criminal investigations. In two of the affairs, the attorney general
found that there was no basis for indictment; in three, the prime
minister was indicted; a conclusion has yet to be reached on the sixth
In 2007, a state commission of inquiry, headed by a former judge,
determined that the police commissioner’s term should not be extended. A
few hours later the commissioner announced his resignation. The public
security minister announced that the former head of the prison services
would be appointed in his stead.
That candidate was forced to forgo the position after a petition was
filed with the Supreme Court, in which it was claimed he should not be
appointed in light of statements regarding him set out by the dissenting
judge in a criminal trial in which he had been exonerated 15 years
Over the past several months, there were three more incidents in which
candidates vying for important public positions have had to withdraw
Last November, the attorney general opened an investigation against a
high-ranking police officer, who was the leading contender for police
commissioner, on suspicion of sexual harassment. In January, the prime
minister’s candidate for the post of Civil Service Commissioner withdrew
his candidacy after the attorney general announced that he would ask
the prime minister to reevaluate his decision. Last week, the prime
minister and the defense minister announced that, in light of a finding
by the attorney general, they would ask the government to cancel its
previous decision to appoint the OC of the Southern Command as the next
IDF chief of general staff. And we haven’t yet mentioned the
investigation against the foreign minister, which began years ago, and
in which a decision by the attorney general is expected to be handed
down this month.
THIS STAGGERING array of legal incidents has no parallel in any other country.
In every healthy democracy, incidents of public corruption are uncovered
occasionally, and the appropriate way to deal with them is through the
But such a unique accumulation of investigations and indictments, of
presidents, prime ministers, ministers and parliament members, in the
last decade alone, is unheard of in any other Western society. And that
is why so many people feel that the legal authorities in Israel are too
light on the trigger in regard to the treatment of public figures.
But again, I do not share that feeling. I had the privilege to serve as a
minister in charge of the lawenforcement authorities for many years, as
both the justice minister and the public security minister. I met with
leaders, commanders and members of units in all police districts,
district attorneys, the department of police investigations, the
attorney general’s departments, and the various courts. I witnessed up
close the seriousness, professionalism and dedication that characterized
their work. As with all organizational frameworks, there is room for
improvement, and one can always legitimately criticize a decision made
by a police investigator, senior prosecutor or judge. However, on the
whole, these systems operate with a sense of mission and fulfill a
vital, irreplaceable role in protecting Israeli society against dire
threats – whether in the struggle against terrorist organizations and
sophisticated organized crime rings, or to preserve the integrity of the
True, at times, a sense of mission may lead to an obsessive crusade, which can harm the sense of justice.
And that is where the independence of the judicial system is put to the
test. It has already proven time and again that when the police or
prosecution displays excessive zeal in its quest to incriminate innocent
defendants, the judges do not hesitate to acquit them.
It is inappropriate here to address investigations or trials which are
pending. But when objectively examining legal proceedings in which final
decisions have been reached, the well-argued, balanced and thoughtout
nature of the verdicts handed down by the judges is impressive.
WHEN IT comes to my own case – in which there was an intensive police
investigation, a trial that lasted four years, a verdict that acquitted
me of most of the charges, and a single conviction for which I had to
resign from the Knesset – I did not feel, even for a moment, that I was
caught up in a hopeless, Kafkaesque system. I knew that I was in the
dock not because someone was out to get me, but because of mistakes I
had made in good faith. I believed that the court was open to hearing my
version, which stated that there was no criminal flaw in my actions,
even if there were mistakes, that in retrospect, I should have refrained
Even after the judges read out their verdict, and even though not all of
my claims were fully accepted, I remained convinced that the court was
committed solely to ensuring justice.
AT THE end of the day, the insistent meticulousness in enforcing the law
equally on every citizen, be he a member of the public, an elected
official, or a civil servant, improves all of our lives. It eradicates
unacceptable phenomena from which we ought to be weaning ourselves. It
forces leaders to be doubly cautious when dealing with public assets. It
constitutes a warning sign which no one can ignore or deny.
If, in the next decade, we are spared more of the alltoo- familiar
headlines about investigations and convictions of leaders, we will know
that this past decade, full of legal proceedings, has had a positive
effect on the quality of government. And if so, public confidence in the
political system will be strengthened, while the worrisome erosion of
public confidence in our law-enforcement institutions will end.The writer is a former Kadima minister.