If the High Court of Justice strikes down the Jewish Nation-State Law it will essentially be ending Israeli democracy, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Tuesday at an Israel Bar Association Conference in Tel Aviv.
Shaked said that since the law was a basic law, the court must respect the will of the nation as represented by such an unambiguous and quasi-constitutional decision of the Knesset. Basic laws in Israel are viewed as having quasi-constitutional status in the absence of an actual constitution.
Currently, there are multiple petitions pending against the law’s constitutionality on the grounds that it discriminates against Israel’s Arab and Druze minorities.
Earlier at the conference, the chief state prosecutor in the public corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Zionist Union MK Revital Swid’s suggestion that the state should decide Cases 1000 (gifts) and 2000 (newspapers) immediately, even if Case 4000 (Bezeq/Walla) waits until later.
While Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly made it clear that he thinks it is important to decide all three Netanyahu probes at the same time
, this was the first time that Liat Ben Ari, who runs the cases, was pressed to take a public position.
Swid noted that Cases 1000 and 2000 are more than two years old and that the police already recommended in February that the prosecution indict Netanyahu for bribery in those cases – even before he became a suspect in Case 4000.
She said that she unequivocally believes that the decisions regarding the prime minister’s probes are being dragged out, though she implied that it could be merely because of inertia and not because of a corrupt motive.
Ben Ari responded, “it is easy to say ‘decide Cases 1000 and 2000 separately.’ But Case 4000 has major significance. The cases are connected to each other. We will file recommendations to the attorney-general on all of the cases. We are working day in and day out – this is not simple.”
She added that both the factual and legal issues involved in the corruption cases are complex, implying that without a comprehensive review there was no obvious conclusion from the outset.
Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri backed Ben Ari, pointing out that the signing in recent months of a plea bargain with Netanyahu’s former media advisor Nir Hefetz completely changed the picture, and that the idea of separate decisions in the cases ignores that new picture.
Swid hit back, saying that Hefetz only added more ammunition against Netanyahu, but that he had not done anything which could have changed the police’s recommendations to indict the prime minister in Cases 1000 and 2000 to a recommendation to close the case.
Moreover, Swid demanded that the state’s decision regarding Netanyahu be made before the next election so that the public would know where things stand when they vote.
Ben Ari responded that, “You are asking for something that we cannot do,” returning to her refrain that fully reviewing the cases’ evidence and their impacts on each other was the only way to get to the truth.
She also rejected media reports that said that she was angry with Mandelblit for slowing down the pace of the probe by delaying her requests for interviewing witnesses.
Also present at the conference, Mandelblit pushed back against attacks on IDF Military Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Sharon Afek which have claimed that he was undermining the IDF’s fighting spirit when he recently opened investigations against two IDF soldiers.
The probes relate to the killing of Palestinians during the ongoing Gaza border crisis. Mandelblit said that Afek’s decision was difficult, but was necessary as part of the role of the IDF’s chief lawyer.
By the same token, he said that Afek’s decision to close the investigation into the “Black Friday” Rafah offensive where some 70 Palestinian civilians were killed – the largest war crimes probe of the 2014 Gaza War – was also based on purely professional and legal considerations.
Making these decisions, and weighing only professional issues and not politics, is a key to protecting IDF soldiers from international prosecution by global judicial bodies, he said.
Later, Afek echoed similar sentiments in his own speech, quoting High Court Justice Noam Sohlberg in a recent decision sentencing Israeli border policeman Ben Deri to 18 months
in prison for negligent homicide of a Palestinian minor in 2014.
Afek paraphrased Sohlberg as saying that the IDF should neither be trigger happy nor too slow on the trigger, but should act responsibly at all times.
He added that he was cognizant that his decisions had an impact on international legal probes of the IDF, but that the primary reason to investigate violations by soldiers was to remain true to the IDF’s own high level of ethics.
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich also appeared at the conference, emphasizing the message that although the police have neglected the Arab and haredi sectors in the past, he has been conducting reforms for better law enforcement in those sectors.
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