Ramat Gan mayor drops out of reelection campaign

Decision comes following veiled threat from the High Court of Justice to fire and ban him from reelection attempt.

July 14, 2013 19:35
3 minute read.
Zvi Bar, mayor of Ramat Gan.

Zvi Bar 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With a thinly veiled threat from the High Court of Justice that it might be prepared to fire him and ban him from running for reelection, Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar on Sunday announced to the court that he would not seek reelection.

Avi Lilian, a Ramat Gan City Council member, had petitioned the court to fire Bar after the city council refused to do so in the wake of the mayor’s January 31 indictment on charges of fraud, accepting bribes, money-laundering and other offenses. Bar, who has been mayor for 24 years, denies the charges.

After a recess and hours of arguments in which Bar’s lawyer, Navot Tal Tzur, tried his utmost to convince the court to stay out of the issue entirely, Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis said: “From a public-minded perspective, it is inconceivable that the mayor continue in his post. We recommend that you make a commitment not to submit your candidacy for reelection.”

In dramatic fashion, Tal Tzur responded that in light of the court’s clear preference, Bar would not run for reelection.

Satisfied with the result, the court turned up the pressure on Lilian to drop the part of the petition demanding that Bar be fired immediately.

This would allow him to serve out the last remaining three months of his current term.

The hearing followed a June 11 conditional order from the High Court that had moved the proceedings close to firing Bar over his indictment for bribery and fraud.

The order demanded that Bar and the Ramat Gan City Council further explain within 21 days why he should not resign or why the council would not fire him.

Tal Tzur and a lawyer representing the city council essentially had tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the court that Bar’s presumption of innocence, along with his being an elected local official, should make him different from an official appointed to a cabinet position.

They said that because the public had elected him and because the Knesset had not specifically said that mayors must resign under indictment, as is usually done in the case of appointed ministers, the court should not intervene.

Wary of issuing a ruling with wide-ranging precedent for all future local officials under indictment, but believing that the specific bribery allegations against Bar were too serious for him to continue as mayor indefinitely, the court was happy to compromise and let him serve out his term, but with a definite endpoint to his reign.

The court had already appeared to take Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s side with its conditional order. Weinstein had said that, legally, Bar must be removed from his post on the basis of the indictment against him for crimes while in office.

While Weinstein made many points, the bottom line was that if an official committed a crime in his or her public capacity and through use of his or her public powers, it should serve as a multiplying factor for the severity of the crime.

In Bar’s case, according to Weinstein, the mayor was obligated to resign after having merely been indicted, despite the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Prior to Lilian’s petition, Bar could have been automatically forced to resign by law only if he had been convicted of a crime carrying a finding of moral turpitude.

However, the Ramat Gan City Council is also empowered to fire the mayor in a variety of other circumstances, and the interior minister may be able to as well.

Until Weinstein’s opinion, the High Court, in earlier hearings on the petition, had appeared unlikely to intervene, particularly with the October mayoral elections in the city only a few months away.

Although Bar’s voluntary dropping out avoided the need for a formal court ruling, the court’s tone on the issue may impact the fate of several other mayors currently under indictment.

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