Legal experts on Monday slammed Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter's choice of Prisons Service chief Yaakov Ganot as the next chief of police, as the first of several expected petitions against the nomination was filed with the High Court of Justice.
However, the most dramatic development of the day may have been the decision of retired Supreme Court justice Ya'akov Turkel, head of the committee in charge of investigating appointments to senior positions in the civil service, to wait for the High Court to rule before considering Ganot's appointment.
Earlier in the morning, the watchdog organization Ometz filed a petition with the court declaring that "the appointment of [Ganot] to the position of police inspector-general is not only an unworthy appointment, it is also unreasonable. [The government] should not appoint a person who was acquitted on grounds of granting him the benefit of the doubt, and regarding whom the Supreme Court declared that his conduct, considering his position as a senior police officer, was infected by corruption."
Ganot was tried in Nazareth District Court on counts of accepting a bribe, fraud and breach of trust. He was originally accused of seven separate offenses. The first four had to do with accepting favors in the form of house renovations provided free of charge or for a low fee from Israeli-Arab contractor Subhi Tanus during the summer of 1992.
According to the fifth charge, Tanus threw a party for Ganot at his home when Ganot was appointed commander of the Northern Police District. According to the sixth charge, Tanus's company painted the exterior of Ganot's house for a low fee. The seventh charge had to do with allegations that Ganot had used a police subordinate to provide personal services for him.
In return for the favors allegedly provided by Tanus, Ganot supposedly provided him with protection when he got into trouble with the law.
The state subsequently dropped the first and fourth charges, and the District Court acquitted him of the rest.
The state then appealed to the Supreme Court. In a two-to-one decision, the court upheld the lower court ruling.
However, Justice Ya'acov Kedmi voted to convict Ganot of breach of faith - the fifth charge - involving the party held for Ganot, while the majority, justices Eliezer Goldberg and Yitzhak Zamir, wrote with regard to the bribery charges that while it was customary not to interfere with the lower court's interpretation of the facts, they had found the state's case to be persuasive, and had they been presiding over the trial, they might have ruled differently.
These allegations against Ganot, and the statements of the Supreme Court justices in their ruling, are the basis for the strong opposition to Ganot's appointment and the petitions to the High Court.
On Monday evening, High Court Justice Ayala Procaccia ordered the state to respond to the Ometz petition by Thursday at 5 p.m. It is almost certain that the state planned to asked the court to throw out the petition on the grounds that it was submitted too early in the process of appointing the new chief of police. However, Turkel's decision not to examine the appointment until the High Court rules might undermine the state's argument.
Although Dichter stood by his decision to nominate Ganot, he said Monday he preferred to remain silent until the High Court ruled on Ganot's candidacy. Nevertheless, he spoke briefly in defense of his choice during a midday meeting of the Kadima faction.
"The Zeiler Report, and the events that followed it, brought about a change within the command echelons of the police, and we must be certain the commander we are promoting to the head of the organization in a period like this will be the most appropriate and experienced, to bring the police to the place where I believe it should be," he told the MKs, who include two of the ministers who initiated the Zeiler Commission.
"After examining all of the aspects, the professional and the legal, I chose a leadership team that I believe has the best chances of success to command the police at this time.
"It's been a long time since we've had a chief inspector with such an impressive record," Dichter later said, adding that "13 years is a long amount of time" for the allegations against Ganot to be still relevant."
On Monday evening, attorney Yitzhak Bam, who represents the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, blasted Turkel for refusing to immediately consider Ganot's appointment.
"The regular and proper procedure for appointing a chief of police is by recommendation of the minister of internal affairs, examination of the nomination by the committee that you [Turkel] head, approval by the cabinet and, if necessary, judicial review by the High Court of Justice. The entire procedure, from the minister's recommendation to the approval of the appointment by the cabinet, takes place within the executive branch of government.
"The committee that you [Turkel] head belongs to the executive branch. Only after the entire procedure in the executive branch has been completed does the judicial branch have its say," Bam said.
Daniel Kayros, an attorney for the Movement for Quality Government, told The Jerusalem Post that Turkel's decision was "unusual." Had the court issued an interim injunction based on the Ometz petition, prohibiting the government from carrying out any further actions regarding the appointment of a new chief of police, Turkel would have had no choice but to refrain from summoning his committee, Kayros said. But since the court did not do so, there was nothing stopping him from doing so.
On Monday morning, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel had announced it would wait for Turkel's decision. If the civil service committee approves Ganot's nomination, the organization said it would petition the High Court. However if Turkel does not change his mind and refuses to summon the committee, the Legal Forum's petition is expected to be filed on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Movement for Quality Government called on the government to formally announce whether Turkel's panel will meet before the High Court rules on the Ganot nomination. According to Kayros, if it does not, the movement will also likely petition against Ganot's appointment in the next day or so.
"The appointment of a person regarding whom a verdict such as the one the Supreme Court handed down in the 1996 state appeal against his acquittal, to head any government body, is improper," wrote the Movement for Quality Government. "This is a hundredfold more true when it comes to the position of chief of police."
Meanwhile, former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir has come out strongly against Ganot's nomination. Zamir was one of the three justices who presided over the state's appeal of his acquittal.
"The verdict that absolved him shows a dishonest person who certainly cannot serve as an example of honesty and cannot lead a police force that is supposed to be pure and incorrupt," Zamir told Israel Radio.
"Furthermore, from the verdict, it is clear that he did not conduct himself in a manner befitting a policeman, and committed disciplinary infractions. For less than this, others were failed to be appointed to the position of chief of police or were dismissed from it," he said.
Law prof. Yoram Shahar of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya told the Post that Ganot's nomination was "reasonable, but not the type of good news that we deserve after the earthquake [created by the Zeiler Commission report.] It is very doubtful if Ganot is the solution to such a broad failure on the part of the police. The failures uncovered in the report were not professional, they were moral. To take a man with even one-tenth of a cloud hanging over his head, I say it is a reasonable choice but not a refreshing one, not a happy one, not one that offers any great hope."