Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The state on Sunday told the High Court of Justice that Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi should be allowed to retain his recently granted post, despite his 2009 conviction for perjury, since he will only be deputy foreign minister and “not involved with law enforcement.”
The state’s response to High Court questions took place against the backdrop of an NGO’s petition to disqualify him from the post because of his conviction for perjury along with a finding of moral turpitude by a court in 2010.
The NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, filed the petition in June.
It noted that Hanegbi had been convicted of perjury with a finding of moral turpitude regarding a letter under oath that he submitted to the Central Elections Commission regarding certain political appointments and should be prevented from taking the post or disqualified from remaining in it if appointed.
Hangebi’s conviction was especially scandalous because he was justice minister. Due to the allegations and conviction, he was initially forced to resign all public roles, including resigning from the Knesset.
Formally, the law disqualifies a deputy minister from continuing in his post only if a finding of moral turpitude is made against him, and a person is completely barred from public service for seven years only if he is sentenced with both a finding of moral turpitude and minimal jail time.
The state noted this and said that the judges who found Hanegbi guilty said specifically that they had purposely omitted any prison time so that he would not be permanently blocked from returning to politics.
But the NGO said the same rationale of the seven-year ban should apply to prevent someone like Hanegbi from becoming a deputy minister in the first place.
The post of deputy foreign minister opened up after outgoing deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin was tapped to co-chair the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee with MK Yariv Levin (Likud).
The court pressed the state hard, noting that according to its reasoning, someone like Hanegbi could be convicted of perjury with moral turpitude and be forced to resign one day, only to be reappointed soon after as though nothing had happened.
The state acknowledged that this was a ridiculous scenario but claimed that it would not have asked the court to validate Hanegbi’s appointment only a few months after being forced to resign.
Rather, the state said that the passage of four years, especially since the seven-year ban does not apply to him, was significant time to have passed.
Next, the state added that it could argue that the NGO’s position is equally extreme. Taken to its logical conclusion, the NGO’s arguments would ban Hanegbi from being a deputy minister for life.
But the other crux of the state’s argument was that Hanegbi’s appointment and his post of deputy foreign minister were “entirely political,” and that since he would “not be involved in law enforcement,” the character of his prior conviction could be discounted.
In contrast, the state said it would not have supported the cabinet’s decision if it had tried to reappoint Hanegbi as justice minister, and the state equivocated as to whether it would support a future position for him as a full minister of any kind.
Ultimately, the state said that since Hanegbi had already, after a hiatus, been permitted to return to the Knesset, he should also be permitted to maintain his deputy foreign minister post – this despite the state’s understanding that there were ethical drawbacks.
The court did not render a decision on the spot.