(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After four years of deliberations that included testimony by well over 100
witnesses, producing thousands of pages of transcripts, the Jerusalem
Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday acquitted MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) of most of the
charges against him. Political appointments made by Hanegbi during his stint as
Likud’s environment minister between 2001 and 2003 were not deemed by the court
to be criminal acts of fraud, breach of trust or electoral
However, Hanegbi was found guilty of perjury. The court, in an
expanded three-man panel – rare, considering the charges – ruled that Hanegbi
had lied when he denied being behind the publication of an ad aimed at garnering
the support of Likud central committee members. In the ad, which appeared in a
Likud mouthpiece ahead of the January 2003 elections, Hanegbi bragged about the
large number of Likud central committee members he had appointed in the
Environment Ministry. The implication, apparently, was that if central committee
members voted for him as a candidate on the Likud’s Knesset list, Hanegbi would
return the favor.
The ramifications of Tuesday’s ruling are still
unclear. In September or October, the court is expected to sentence
will decide whether the perjury charge carries with it “moral
turpitude.” If so,
Hanegbi’s political career could be hurt.
The court’s decision raises
some fundamental questions: Notably, should political appointments, even
are made for electoral support, be considered a criminal offense? And
why is it that there seem to be no clear directives and procedures
these appointments? The High Court’s official position, as set down in
The Minister of Finance, is that political appointments are forbidden.
Israeli political reality is radically different. Politicians routinely
Numerous state comptroller’s reports complaining
about the phenomenon have done nothing to change this.
One of the reasons
Hanegbi was acquitted on counts related to political appointments is
that the practice is so widespread. Hanegbi’s predecessors in the
Ministry behaved in exactly the same way.
Nor are political appointments
a uniquely Israeli phenomenon.
The American judiciary has recently taken
steps to limit the scope of the “honest service law” to extreme cases,
those involving bribery. In the Hanegbi case, meanwhile, an Israeli
willing for the first time to consider the possibility that a political
appointment could be a criminal offense.
ACCORDING TO Prof. Yossi Shain
of Tel Aviv and Georgetown universities, who has authored a soon-to-be
book called The Language of Corruption
in Israel’s Moral Culture
, the Israeli
judicial approach is counterproductive.
It creates the impression that
Israeli politics suffers from rampant corruption. This undermines the
trust in politics and politicians without addressing the real
Instead of a blanket prohibition against all political
appointments, a more nuanced approach is in order, one that recognizes
realities of political life. As a Shas minister put it over a decade ago
confronted with charges of political appointments, “What do you expect
me to do?
Appoint a Likudnik?” If it can be determined that a given appointment
the democratic process by, for instance, putting in office an official
consideration of his or her substantive merits but only of his or her
utility, it should be blocked. But prohibiting all forms of political
appointments as inherently wrong is not only impossible to enforce, it
More important is the need for clear directives that govern
the way appointments are made. Prospective appointments should all be
through a tender process, a special appointment committee or some other
that provides a measure of oversight. Doing so would protect politicians
pressure exerted on them by their cronies.
A lack of clarity regarding
appointment procedures hurts honest politicians, who will be either
cautious or unfairly accused of wrongdoing. Dishonest politicians,
will try to take advantage of the ambiguity.
Hanegbi – a veteran
politician who may yet prove central to efforts to forge a unity
perjured himself because he felt he had something to hide. But if
appointments made in accordance with clear directives and transparent
had been considered completely legitimate, he would not have had to lie