Defending Israel’s justice minister Amir Ohana

His detractors have attempted to discredit him in a host of ways, particularly by insinuating that he has no special skills beyond being Bibi’s pet and sycophant.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Minister Amir Ohana must have known his address to the Knesset on Wednesday was going to unleash the rabid dogs that have been hounding him for the past six months. After all, ever since he was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu to the coveted – albeit interim – cabinet post, Ohana’s criticism of the Israeli judiciary in general, and controversial comments about the courts in particular, have aroused the wrath of the self-righteous.
Rather than recoil, however – as a lawyer with blossoming political ambitions might be expected to do – Ohana has remained firm in and vocal about his convictions. This is in spite of the fact that in the immediate aftermath of each of his ostensibly scandalous statements, his detractors have attempted to discredit him in a host of ways, particularly by insinuating that he has no special skills beyond being Bibi’s pet and sycophant.
It’s a ridiculous claim, of course. But it’s a handy one for those who virulently oppose the Nation-State Law that Ohana was instrumental in drafting, for example, (not to mention his support for a bill that would grant a sitting prime minister – in this case, Netanyahu, who is under threat of indictment – immunity from prosecution).
Though it’s true that Ohana is a Netanyahu loyalist, he has been one since long before he entered the Knesset. Furthermore, his continued backing of the PM in the face of the investigations against him has to do with his professional assessment that the cases are legally flimsy, at best, which they are. 
Imagine the delight of Ohana’s naysayers, then, when he provided them with the opportunity to accuse him of committing a “serious criminal offense”: violating a gag order.
The gag order in question involved a single detail that emerged – among many that have been leaked to the press – in the ongoing interrogation of former Netanyahu communications aide and confidant Nir Hefetz. Hefetz was pressured incessantly until he agreed to turn state witness against Netanyahu in Case 4000, familiarly referred to as the “Bezeq-Walla Affair.”
In this case, one of three potential indictments, Netanyahu is suspected of regulatory intervention on behalf of and financially beneficial to Shaul Elovitch – owner of the telecom company, Bezeq – in exchange for positive coverage in the Bezeq-owned Hebrew news site Walla. Because of the ridiculousness of the charge, the powers-that-be in the Justice Ministry’s offices of the attorney-general and state attorney have had to grasp at dissolving paper straws in order to save face for drafting it in the first place.
ONE SUCH soluble entity was Hefetz. To get him to cough up evidence that Netanyahu made a deal with Elovitch for the sake of favorable coverage, the fraud squad put the screws on Hefetz, as if he were some kind of crucial cog in a dangerous criminal operation, and locked him up in dreadful conditions for more than two weeks. Kept in a filthy, flea-ridden cell, he was threatened with financial and familial ruin if he did not cooperate.
The public was made privy to this by Channel 12’s Amit Segal, who released documentation of Hefetz’s ordeal, which included a plea to be given ointment to alleviate the itching from bites all over his body. This was met with a dismissive shrug and a suggestion that he could alleviate his suffering by giving his interrogators the information they desired.
The trouble was that as much as Hefetz tried to help himself by slinging mud on Netanyahu, his statements to police were contradictory.
“I am very confused about what I remember and what I said under questioning,” he said when confronted with the many and varied discrepancies in his different versions of events. “Everything is confused. Memory is not my strong point. I don’t do well with long-term memory. I might remember things now, but I am liable to forget them six months from now.”
One example of a story he recounted that proved to be false was of a three-way meeting he claimed to have had with Netanyahu and Elovitch a few days prior to the 2015 Knesset elections. But as soon as investigators discovered through cellphone records that this rendezvous could not have taken place at that time, Hefetz said it must have happened months earlier.
At one point, according to Channel 12, interrogators seemingly coached Hefetz on an aspect of the case about which he was fuzzy. This was indicated by a break in the recording of one of his sessions, after which he suddenly rattled off precise details that he had been unable to recall beforehand.
Ohana’s description at the Knesset of the above behavior of law enforcement authorities toward Hefetz – as part of their campaign to nail Netanyahu – happened to include the one police intimidation tactic that was placed under a gag order on Monday: a threat to expose his extramarital affair.
To make the threat credible, investigators hauled in the woman with whom he had been in some kind of romantic relationship – someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with the case – and orchestrated an “accidental” meeting in the hallway between her and Hefetz.
Following the encounter, his jailers warned him that if he didn’t start singing, they would “drop [the adultery] bomb” on his family.
Judging by the timeline of his detention, this dirty trick may have been a major contributing factor in Hefetz’s decision to turn state’s witness.
That he is now enraged over the violation of the gag order that protected his privacy on this particular matter is thus understandable on a personal, spousal and parental level.
BUT THE hysteria over Ohana’s slip-up from the anti-Netanyahu punditry and political echelon is hypocritical, to say the least, since they’ve all been suspiciously silent about the egregious leaks and breaches of conduct on the part of the prosecutors who are out for Netanyahu’s ouster-by-incarceration. Considering their constant professions of concern about the need to uphold the rule of law, they should be just as appalled as Ohana by the treatment of Hefetz at the hands of his interrogators. Instead, they are zeroing in on his gag-order infraction, because they hate his political views.
Ironically, this phenomenon is something that he explained to Segal in a Channel 12 interview in June, a week after he was sworn in as justice minister. “It’s more convenient for [members of the Left] to serve as the forces of light against the forces of darkness [on the Right],” he said.
Ohana responded to this week’s outcry from those “forces of light” by stating that he had not revealed anything new in his speech, but rather “only what already has been published, as though in the age of Facebook and Twitter there is any meaning to a gag order.”
This was likely a reference to a November 4 tweet by Yeshiva World News – a foreign news outlet not subject to Israeli gag orders – with the headline: “Bombshell: Israel Police called for female friend of state’s witness Nir Hefetz... for questioning, was threatened that if she doesn’t cooperate, they will publicize ‘embarrassing things’ about both”
Once this “bombshell” was dropped in the Knesset, it became public domain and ceased being off limits to the local media. From a legal standpoint, if Ohana purposely maneuvered to get the information out there with malice aforethought, he broke the law. Naturally, this is what his enemies are accusing him of having done.
The reason it makes little sense for him to have crossed such a line on purpose, though, is that even without including the bit about the anonymous woman, he was armed with more than enough ammunition to attack the bullying and coercion employed against Hefetz. Furthermore, if it were up to the police, the whole investigation would have been kept under wraps, since it mainly produced evidence of the interrogators’ wrongdoing and little-to-nothing about Netanyahu.
Hopefully, Ohana will not become the next victim of the system that he wishes to reform, and he will stick around to stick it to those of his technical underlings who have gotten overly comfortable overstepping the bounds of their jurisdictions.