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Israel prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East. But if we are not careful, we will lose that distinction. Today Israel finds itself increasingly under the rule not of law, but of lawyers. And the results are similar to the results in other states where the rule of law is undermined. Lawlessness, loss of personal security and selective legal protection are becoming more and more widespread.
Sunday, former justice minister Prof. Amnon Rubinstein warned against this growing phenomenon in a broadside against Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Rubinstein, who now serves as the dean of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, rebuked Mazuz for threatening to limit Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's executive powers if he deems them to be in conflict with the criminal probe of Olmert's role in the privatization of Bank Leumi.
In Rubinstein's words, "The attorney-general is not permitted to limit the powers of a minister or of the prime minister. He is certainly not permitted to threaten to limit them." Rubinstein continued: "This is an extremely serious matter. It is without precedent in any democratic countryâ€¦ There is a danger in a regime of bureaucrats. An elected representative is always dependent on the public, whereas we have no control over appointed officials."
Mazuz and his colleagues routinely respond to attacks similar to Rubinstein's by stating that their expropriation of the legally mandated powers of elected leaders is done merely to protect the rule of law. Yet this is untrue.
MAZUZ AND his associates in the state prosecution wrest power from political leaders to advance their own political agendas - agendas that uniformly align with those of the radical, anti-Israel Left. Indeed, one of the most important powers the state prosecution took from the government is the power to choose the attorney-general and the state's attorney. Today appointments for both positions are vetted by a committee comprised of unelected lawyers. That is, in a manner even less open to political oversight than the self-selection of judges, the state prosecution selects its own leaders.
And asserting control over the prime minister's powers in office is not the only area where Israel's state prosecution uses its law enforcement powers to advance its politically-uniform membership's political agenda. In addition to using its authority to investigate and indict, state prosecutors use that power to determine how and against whom the laws will be enforced generally in the country.
And because of the uniform political views of the country's prosecutors, laws are generally enforced in a consistently prejudicial fashion. Certain favored groups receive legally negligent lenience from prosecutors, while other groups, which are out of favor, are prosecuted to the limits, and often beyond the limits of the law, and at the same time are denied the protection of the law.
CASE IN point is the state of law enforcement against Beduin gangs in the Negev. Over the past several years, hundreds of gangs of Beduin thieves have totally overthrown the rule of law in the Negev. They have squatted on thousands of dunams of state lands and then demanded that the state provide them with water and electricity in the lands they stole. They have set up protection rackets against the utilities companies by cutting power lines, damaging water pipes, destroying cellular telephone antennas and breaking into businesses, and then offering their "security services" to the firms and owners they have robbed in exchange for promises not to rob again.
Highway robbery is another favorite pastime. Pini Badash, the head of the Omer Regional Council, told Makor Rishon last Friday that residents of Dimona will drive to Beersheba only after dark in five-car convoys for fear of highway robbery. During the day they travel in armored buses. While Beduin make up only 10-15 percent of the Negev's population, they account for approximately 60 percent of the crime in the region.
Worst hit are the farmers. Farmers, and particularly ranchers, are the main obstacle preventing the Beduin from taking over the Negev and connecting a lawless, ungoverned southern Israel to Gaza, Sinai and Judea. As a result there is both an irredentist political motivation as well as a criminal intent to the constant harassment of Negev farmers. And the results are dramatic.
The Israeli Cattle Breeders Association reported a 236-percent increase in cattle rustling in 2006 over the previous year. Most of the theft occurred in the south. The overwhelming majority of the agricultural theft - of livestock, trees and greenhouses themselves - is carried out by Beduin gangs.
TWO WEEKS ago, sheep farmer Shai Dromi was the latest victim of Beduin criminality. On January 13, Dromi's farm was infiltrated by four Beduin thieves. Led by Khaled Atrash, one of the most notorious car thieves in the region - who had just completed a four-year prison term for agricultural theft - the thieves poisoned Dromi's guard dogs before moving toward his sheep pen.
Dromi's farm had already been robbed three times. Each time, after killing his dogs with poison, the thieves stole his herd. To save his livelihood, Dromi built a room in his sheep pen and moved in to guard them. During the latest attack, Dromi was awakened at 4 a.m. by his dying dogs' tortured howls and went out to defend his property. After his calls for the thieves to leave were ignored, he shot off his rifle. Atrash was hit in the leg and later died of his wounds despite Dromi's attempts to save him. Another thief was also wounded. The other two ran away.
According to Israeli criminal law, "A person will not be criminally liable for an act that was immediately necessary in order to prevent an unlawful attack that involved clear danger to his life, his liberty, his body or his property, or that of others." The law also stipulates that "A person will not be criminally liable for an act that was immediately necessary to save his life, liberty, body or property, or that of another."
On the face of it, there can be no clearer case of self-defense than Dromi's case. And yet the police and state prosecution have remanded him to custody and are planning on indicting him for manslaughter. Badash argues that many prosecutors and judges are wary of prosecuting or convicting Beduin for fear of revenge attacks against themselves and their families. In Dromi's case, prominent criminal attorney Yoram Sheftel believes that the prosecution's decision to throw the book at him for protecting himself against the Beduin thieves is politically motivated.
Sheftel notes that State Attorney Eran Shendar is the former treasurer of the radical left-wing Peace Now organization. Iska Leibowitz, the chief prosecutor in the southern district, is the daughter of the late professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of the ideological founders of the radical Left in Israel and the earliest prominent Israeli purveyor of the obscene comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany. Her nephew, attorney Shamai Leibowitz, is a radical anti-Zionist attorney. After defending Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti in his multiple murder trial, Shamai Leibowitz has been agitating in the US for divestment from Israel. Iska Leibowitz's colleagues state forthrightly that she shares her family's political views.
In his remand hearing Dromi said, "I think the writing was on the wall. The reality in our country is known. We have no personal security here."
The police claim that their failure to protect the lives and property of the Negev farmers is a result of lack of manpower. But they also note that they are afraid to enforce the law for fear of being accused of anti-Beduin prejudice by anti-Zionist Arab legislators and by the radical Left state prosecution.
WHAT WE see, then, in Mazuz's absurd assertion of imaginary authority to limit the powers of the prime minister whose criminal investigation Mazuz's office oversees; and in his underlings' decision not to enforce the law against Beduin crime rings on the one hand, and to zealously and unjustifiably prosecute Shai Dromi on the other, is an effective subversion of the rule of law by unelected officials tasked with enforcing the laws.
The end result in all these cases is that the collective and individual fates of citizens are decided by politically motivated prosecutors. Due to these attorneys' anti-Zionist bias, they are actively weakening the political foundations of Israeli democracy, while undermining the normative foundation of the rule of law by denying equal protection and unprejudiced prosecution under the law.
For Israeli society to protect our democracy we must reestablish the rule of law in this country. To do so, we need to put a rapid end to the rule of lawyers.