Cochavit Netzach Dolev takes a stand

The new Jerusalem district attorney is being criticized for her aggressive crossexamination of Meni Naftali – and her unfortunately timed association with Sara Netanyahu.

Cochavit Netzach Dolev (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cochavit Netzach Dolev
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When future district attorney Cochavit Netzach Dolev climbed the Jerusalem Labor Court stairs to the hall where its president, Judge Dita Proginin, was officiating, she likely never imagined that by the end of the day she would be raked over the coals.
She had, however, probably guessed that her aggressive cross-examination of Meni Naftali, ex-caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, would be widely covered in the media – but did not imagine it would cause an earthquake that would undermine her credibility and reputation.
Netzach Dolev sat in the chair reserved for the defense and looked around with a smile on her face, as dozens of journalists waited impatiently for the trial to begin.
She saw Naftali listening carefully as his lawyers, Naomi Landau and Nava Pinchuk- Alexander, offered him last-minute advice.
“Are you managing the case through the media? Is it possible that you are a violent person?” These were just a couple of the questions the experienced litigator asked Naftali. Netzach Dolev then asked another controversial question: “About how many years of high school have you completed?” The room began buzzing and within seconds, journalists had posted critical tweets; even the judge had expressed her disapproval.
That evening Netzach Dolev arrived home exhausted, having learned that the media had called her cross-examination overly harsh, when she thought it had been letter-perfect.
However, her unanimous appointment as Jerusalem district attorney just two weeks after Sara Netanyahu’s testimony has been criticized by a number of people, and the situation she most feared has come to pass.
A portion of the public believes there is a connection between the prime minister’s wife’s testimony against Naftali and Netzach Dolev’s appointment – which members of the District Attorney’s Office insist had been decided long before the Naftali case.
Netzach Dolev sat back and watched as 21 years of hard work came down to the crossexamination in a single case.
NETZACH DOLEV was representing the Prime Minister’s Office in a lawsuit Naftali had filed against it and its deputy directorgeneral of operations, Ezra Saidoff, on the grounds that his conditions of employment were overruled by Sara Netanyahu.
Naftali resigned after he wasn’t given the tenure he claimed was promised him as manager of the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Netzach Dolev was criticized for every step in the case, that she was supposedly being too tough on the plaintiff in an effort to appease Sara Netanyahu. Over and over again, people claimed Netzach Dolev had coveted the position of district attorney and this had colored her decisions.
Even Judge Proginin agreed with some of the criticism. She submitted a complaint regarding an affidavit from Netanyahu and the sensitivity of the timing of the submission, since it was close to the date of the upcoming Knesset election. On December 29, 2014, the regional labor court rejected the prosecution’s request to submit an affidavit from the prime minister’s wife after the election; but when it came time to submit the affidavits, this particular one was missing. Proginin then issued a decision – which was leaked to the press – that it be submitted by March 15, two days before the election.
Of this, Proginin noted, “The court’s requests are not recommendation-only.”
But the main criticism of Netzach Dolev came following her cross-examination of Naftali; many of the media outlets came out with headlines calling it combative and irrelevant to the case at hand. In the sessions that followed, Netzach Dolev claimed that she was not given time to finish the cross-examination as planned – due to the presence in court of reporters, who “contributed to an atmosphere that prevented her full questioning,” as her colleagues in the prosecutor’s office maintained. “The questioning was serious, but not violent or aggressive.”
Six weeks later, Netzach Dolev was again castigated by some – for cross-examining Sara Netanyahu in too passive a manner.
In a conversation with one of her colleagues, Netzach Dolev recently commented on her question to Naftali regarding how many years of school he’d completed. “Our allegation was that Saidoff had not promised Naftali a tenured position. You can’t promise someone something that doesn’t exist. Because one of the prerequisites for that position was having completed 12 years of schooling, even if Naftali had been promised the job, he was not eligible.”
“I did not ask the question to taunt him, but to show the truth,” she reiterated. “I do what I think is right and I’ve had the support of my superiors throughout the entire case. I have been conducting this case in coordination with officials on the most senior levels; every step of the way has been planned in collaboration with them.”
Netzach Dolev strongly rejects claims that she has any kind of special relationship with the prime minister’s wife. The only times they’ve ever met were to prepare for court proceedings – meetings Netzach Dolev described as businesslike and completely proper. She never held a private meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but she was present at meetings that involved him.
When asked about her feelings towards Sara Netanyahu, Netzach Dolev replied, “She is very hurt by the allegations against her.”
BORN IN JERUSALEM, Netzach Dolev, 46, is married to an electrical engineer who works for Partner Communications. They have four children, all of whom are actively involved in sport and root for the recently victorious Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team – despite the fact that most of their friends in the neighborhood support Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Netzach Dolev isn’t interested in TV shows or movies; she spends most of her free time cheering on her children in their athletic endeavors. And despite her long work hours, she still manages to join her husband and children for dinner most nights.
Growing up in a religious family in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, Netzach Dolev attended Maimon, the local elementary school, and later Midreshet Amalia seminary. When it came time to enlist in the IDF, she never hesitated, since it was a given that all girls in her family did so; she served as an education coordinator and upon her release in 1989 began studying law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors, also earning a master’s degree in public policy with honors.
In 1993, she began her training period at the Supreme Court under justice Eliyahu Matza, and a year later, moved over to the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office – where she has been ever since.
Initially, the prosecution’s office was a single entity that dealt with criminal and civil matters. Netzach Dolev worked on a variety of complex cases dealing with fraud, drugs, sex and violence.
Her acquaintances say she is very sarcastic and has a great sense of humor, which balances her more bellicose side.
She is passionate and competitive; like her children, she loves to win. Finance Ministry legal adviser Joel Baris avers that she “tends to get very excited. Even if we’re just dealing with an internal matter, she never discusses anything quietly, and her comments are always spot-on.”
ON MAY 26, a little over two weeks after Sara Netanyahu delivered her testimony, the Civil Service Commission tender committee unanimously decided to appoint Netzach Dolev as Jerusalem district attorney.
Not one person had raised any doubts, a few commission members commented afterwards. There had been talk for quite some time about the appointment, yet it didn’t take long before critiques noting the close timing of the Naftali case began popping up in the media.
Former state attorney Moshe Lador defended the appointment: “When I saw what they were writing in the papers, I thought, ‘What an injustice.’ It is so ridiculous that the public is connecting the Naftali case with her recent appointment.
Everyone has known for a while now that she would be appointed district attorney, and that it has nothing to do with this case.
“She is one of the most respected lawyers in the country and I assume that the discussion surrounding her nomination was very quick and straightforward, since everyone thought she was qualified. She has handled many cases that were much more complex than the Naftali case.”
Netzach Dolev is very sensitive to the disadvantaged populations in Israel. She recently interviewed two interns, one haredi and one of Ethiopian origin, and the process got her thinking: “I think that the Ethiopian community’s struggle is justified,” she contended. “We aren’t doing enough for the Ethiopian community. We need to acknowledge their existence and deal with the problems.”
Netzach Dolev also maintains that we shouldn’t ignore what’s going on in the ultra-Orthodox community, especially among young haredi men who are interested in joining the secular working world without letting it harm their religious principles. She also believes that the time has come for a haredi judge to join the District Attorney’s Office. “I have no doubt that haredi judges will perform excellently and that this will improve the community’s faith in the court system. Every sector needs representation in the courtroom, including haredim, Ethiopians, minorities, homosexuals, etc.”
Naftali’s civil action case deals with labor law, and Netzach Dolev believes the employment situation in Israel is getting better, but we still have a long way to go with respect to minorities and disadvantaged groups. “The state is an equal-opportunity employer, but there is still room for improvement. The state is not intentionally hurting its employees, but some behavioral patterns have remained from previous eras and we need to work hard to make changes and improvements. But at least we’re going in the right direction.”
As for the media, she says it is a shame that it continuously attacks the prosecution instead of highlighting how the office works to help the public.
Presumably, we will be hearing a lot more about Cochavit Netzach Dolev.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.