(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In the Israeli legal system, the attorney-general is the chief legal adviser to the government as well as the head of the prosecution. While appointed by the government, the A-G functions autonomously.
Ever since Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman emerged as the player most likely to tip our post-election political scales, the media has been rife with rumor and insinuation about which cabinet portfolios he might be forbidden from holding. Much of the innuendo is sourced to anonymous leakers from the within the legal establishment who claim to be in the know, but may be pushing an agenda.
Such tendentious leaks don't serve the public's need to know because they reveal nothing concrete. They only raise questions and allude darkly to culpability. Lieberman's legal entanglements may be real and grave - or not. Who knows?
Since both Kadima's Tzipi Livni and the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu want Lieberman to be part of any government they lead, perhaps both should appeal to Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz asking that he either make an official statement on Lieberman's fitness or instruct the police and legal apparatus to stay shtum.
ON OCCASION in the past, the state prosecution has, on baseless grounds, torpedoed appointees who, coincidentally or otherwise, it may have perceived as dangerous to its interests. Most memorable are the cases against Ya'acov Ne'eman and Rafael Eitan which foiled their appointments as justice and police minister, respectively, in 1996. In both cases the charges were unceremoniously rejected by the courts as soon as each trial opened.
The on-off investigations against Lieberman are a decade old. Among other flaws, they employed illegal wiretapping. Mazuz's decision to detain Lieberman's attorney and campaign manager, and put Lieberman's daughter under house-arrest just before the elections, have yet to be justified.
This is not to say that Lieberman is as pure as the driven snow. It is to say that we don't know, and that Mazuz's conduct doesn't help us. If Lieberman is unsuitable for a given ministry, he should be barred from any ministerial role. It's Mazuz's duty to enlighten us rather than sit back and let the rumor-mill churn.
Mazuz has developed a disturbing history of launching much-ballyhooed investigations that lead neither to indictments and convictions nor provide public closure. In the case of president Moshe Katsav, Mazuz announced his intention to try Katsav for rape, then backtracked and admitted the case was too wobbly. Instead, he allowed a plea-bargain, from which Katsav subsequently extricated himself. Mazuz didn't force a sitting president - or a sitting prime minister, for that matter, in the case of the Ehud Olmert - out of office, but he sure helped make both departures inevitable.
The latest development in the Katsav legal debacle: The central region prosecution team headed by Ronit Amiel and Nissim Marom advised Mazuz last month that the case against Katsav for allegedly raping Tourism Ministry "Aleph" "is so borderline that it probably can't be successfully prosecuted." They were saddled with the case after the Jerusalem prosecution, under Irit Baumhorn, was torn by disagreement. Did Mazuz evaluate this case with sufficient care before rushing to the media with charges he apparently couldn't substantiate?
Mazuz also made other questionable decisions. No sooner was he installed by then-premier Ariel Sharon than he fully exonerated Sharon's son Gilad from bribery charges in the "Greek Island Affair," ruling that Gilad deserved millions in "compensation" from business interests for doing little more than surfing the Internet.
His zeal in opposing Balad's disqualification by the Central Elections Committee was similarly disquieting. With Balad's former leader, Azmi Bishara, a fugitive from justice and current party bosses maintaining flagrant contact with Bishara - who sides with the state's enemies - there surely was at least room to evaluate Balad's fitness.
Yet in other cases, Mazuz proceeds with excruciating sluggishness. Several of his Olmert investigations have been dragging on... and on.
Add it all up, and we find Mazuz's conduct perturbing. No one questions his personal integrity. The same cannot be said of his legal judgment and astuteness.
The legitimacy of our legal system is undermined when justice is seen to be imposed surreptitiously or inconsistently. It must treat all equally, and be seen to be done. Is Mazuz upholding that standard?