Nitzan’s challenges

Nitzan faces significant challenges, from the rehabilitation of the state prosecution’s reputation to deciding whether or not to indict figures in several conspicuous cases.

December 19, 2013 03:23
3 minute read.
Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan (L).

Shai Nitzan 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)


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Shai Nitzan, who took over the position of state attorney this week, faces a number of challenges.

First and foremost, Nitzan must work to rehabilitate the public’s trust in the state prosecution.

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The state prosecution’s good name has taken a beating in the wake of a few high-profile failures. Most recently, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman was acquitted of charges of breach of public trust and fraud brought against him back in January.

The resounding failure of state prosecutors was amplified by the fact that Liberman had been investigated for 17 years and that a much larger, multi-million- dollar money-laundering case had been dropped without any indictment.

In July, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted of the two more serious charges the state prosecution brought against him. The prosecution managed to convict Olmert on the less serious charge of breach of trust.

The Olmert and Liberman cases have fueled public outcry, particularly among the two politicians’ supporters, that the investigations and indictments were nothing more than politically motivated witchhunts.

More objective voices such as former Supreme Court justices Jacob Terkel and Eliahu Mazza, who were both critical of the tremendous amount of time Liberman was under investigation without being indicted, called on the state prosecution to review its methods.

The state attorney and the attorney-general must make an effort to rehabilitate the prosecution’s standing in the eyes of the public, and Nitzan will be instrumental in spearheading this effort. Completing the process of establishing an external body that will operate as a sort of ombudsman supervising the state attorney, the attorney-general and the police prosecution unit will help. But the new body may be a source of tension and a challenge to his authority that Nitzan will have to take into consideration.

Nitzan will have to deal with a few high-profile cases of his own. One such case is the Harpaz Affair that involves former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, Col. (res.) Erez Weiner and Lt.-Col.

(res.) Boaz Harpaz. Another is the criminal investigation of former chief Ashkenazi rabbi Yonah Metzger, who is suspected of bribery and fraud. And there is also the Bibi Tours case of purported improprieties involving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s travel expenses.

Nitzan’s skills and background are markedly different from those of outgoing state attorney Moshe Lador. While Lador was the consummate criminal attorney, Nitzan’s experience is primarily with human rights and international law. He defended the interrogation methods of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) before the High Court of Justice and in the Knesset; fought against the UN’s Goldstone Report, which falsely accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead; defended the use of “targeted killings” under certain situations against terrorists; and was involved in the Prisoner X Affair.

Nitzan has made enemies on the Right due his support for administrative detention orders against settlers suspected of violence against Palestinians and his decision to investigate Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior for allegedly inciting violence against Palestinians.

Nitzan’s appointment despite having less criminal law experience is a testament to the tremendous respect Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and others in the legal community have for his abilities as a litigator. But this relative lack of background might make it harder for Nitzan to perform his job if for no other reason than because of the perception that it creates.

And attempts might be made on the Right to intimidate him, particularly if he finds himself leading a high-profile case against a popular right-wing figure.

Nitzan faces significant challenges, from the rehabilitation of the state prosecution’s reputation to deciding whether or not to indict figures in several conspicuous cases. His success will be the success of the State of Israel.

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