With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption probes hovering over the stage, Justice Ministry “oversight czar” David Rozen said on Tuesday that all gifts to public servants should be prohibited.
“A public servant... who takes upon himself a public role must fulfill one basic norm – no gifts!... This is a norm that needs to obligate everyone... every public servant must know that he and gifts do not go together!” exclaimed Rozen.
Rozen, known as the judge who sent former prime minister Ehud Olmert behind bars for corruption, was speaking on a panel at an Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv.
On the same panel and echoing Rozen, former police investigations chief Yoav Segolovitz addressed Netanyahu’s main legal defense in the Case 1000 gifts affair.
Netanyahu has said that hundreds of thousands of shekels of gifts he received were permitted because they from tycoon-friends and not connected to his role as prime minister.
Segolovitz said that “what the prime minister said is maybe good for public relations, but it is not correct legally,” adding that if he were Netanyahu’s lawyer, “I would not suggest him to say this out loud.”
Distinguishing between what Israeli law refers to as improper benefits versus proper gifts, he said, “These were benefits and not gifts! Everyone knows what we are talking about and it was not denied. Also, I am asking why hasn’t an indictment been filed?” Netanyahu did have one loud defender on the panel.
Coalition chairmen and Likud MK David Bitan asked rhetorically, “If the issues are so simple then where is the indictment against the prime minister and why is there a need for a state’s witness? “More than that, the state attorney himself declared that the gifts case is not so simple as some are trying to present here, and is legally complex,” he said.
“The criminal law has no prohibition to receive gifts and there is a loophole.
Maybe we need to clarify and amend the law, but for sure one cannot come [against the prime minister] retroactively.
The prosecution admits there are problems with the case... there will be no indictment,” Bitan concluded.
Next, Zionist Union MK Revital Swid tore into Bitan, saying, “How can it be that we find ourselves in a situation today that a public servant, the most senior of them, accepted gifts” in large volumes, “and anyone is even wobbling about whether it is legal or illegal? “Will he not be beholden to the man from who he received the gifts? There is the creation of delegitimization against the police and the legal system,” referring to the August 9 rally at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds in support of Netanyahu that many said was designed to intimidate those considering indicting him.
Earlier, at the conference, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid said that Israel is turning “into a corrupt state.”
He added that all of the prime minister’s close allies, including multiple former chiefs of the IDF General Staff, are under investigation.
Lapid proposed that anyone ever convicted of a crime with moral turpitude, which most financial crimes have, should no longer be a minister, referring to Interior Minister Arye Deri.
Deri served 22 months in prison for a bribery conviction, and was released in 2002. He was barred from holding public office for seven years after his release because his offense involved moral turpitude.
Deri was appointed a minister in the current government, but he is once again under investigation.
Speaking later at the conference and responding to months of criticism, including protests near his home, that he has moved to slow in concluding his investigation of Netanyahu, Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit said that “law enforcement is not a political matter and it is prohibited that it be influenced by factors external to the criminal process.”
He said all that mattered was an objective review of the evidence and the public interest.
Mandelblit said he understood the public interest in quickly concluding the Netanyahu investigation, but said that he would not complete it without having reviewed all related testimony and documents.
State Attorney Shai Nitzan, speaking after Mandelblit and backing him, said that recently new evidence was revealed relating to the Netanyahu probes following the signing of a state’s witness agreement. He assured the conference attendees that if they knew about the new evidence in play, they would understand the need for more time to investigate. Former Netanyahu chief of staff Ari Harow recently became a state’s witness.
Seemingly also responding to Lapid’s comment about the country becoming corrupt, Nitzan said that Israel is not a corrupt state because it has sent a long list of top public officials to jail.
He did not say that there was no corruption in Israel, but explained that a corrupt state is one which, unlike Israel, does not forcefully go after public corruption.