(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The High Court of Justice on Sunday called on the Justice Ministry and lawyers representing Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger to negotiate a compromise over Metzger's demand to nullify a critical opinion published by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz in which Mazuz urged Metzger to resign.
A panel of five justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told the sides she did not want the High Court to have to rule on the petition.
Metzger's lawyer, David Liba'i, charged that Mazuz's opinion was published without giving his client the opportunity to respond to the harsh allegations included in it or his recommendation that Metzger resign because he was allegedly not suitable for the job.
"Mazuz launched a procedure aimed at dismissing Metzger," Liba'I told the court. "Such a procedure obliges the attorney-general to grant him a hearing so that he can respond to the allegations."
Police began to investigate Metzger in December 2004, following a report by Channel 2 television alleging that he and his family had stayed at the David Citadel hotel in Jerusalem over the week-long Pessah holiday without paying for room or board. The police also investigated other allegations of corruption against Metzger.
On April 6, Mazuz published his decision on the investigation, stating that police "had not found a sufficient factual basis that offered a reasonable chance of indicting Metzger." However, the second half of Mazuz's opinion addressed the "public" (as opposed to the criminal) aspects of Metzger's behavior. Mazuz analyzed the chief rabbi's conduct in these affairs and concluded that Metzger had repeatedly demonstrated "contempt in his attitude towards public funds, readiness to accept favors on the basis of his status as chief rabbi and entanglements because he did not speak the truth or accept responsibility for his actions but put the blame on his subordinates."
In the final paragraph of the opinion, Mazuz wrote that it would be appropriate for Metzger to "assume personal responsibility and decide himself to resign." If he did not do so of his own accord, Mazuz continued, the justice minister should consider bringing him before the Committee of Dayanim to consider firing him.
The state's representative, Attorney Odit Corinaldi-Sirkis, argued that Mazuz had expressed his opinion in urging Metzger to resign. It was clear to all that he did not have the authority to force Metzger to do so. Furthermore, he did no more than recommend that the justice minister consider summoning the Committee of Dayanim to discuss the possibility of dismissing Metzger.
But Liba'i said Mazuz had been so critical of Metzger, and made it so clear he considered him unworthy of being chief rabbi that the justice minister and the Committee of Dayanim could not help but be influenced by his opinion, and Mazuz had done so without first hearing Metzger's explanations. Therefore, the entire opinion should be regarded as invalid. Mazuz, he continued, should have filed a short complaint with the Committee of Dayanim and asked it to look into Metzger's conduct.