Herzog under attack for reduction of sentence for criminal

Gila Naftalin is the sister of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, with whom President Isaac Herzog has had long and close relations.

 President Isaac Herzog is seen speaking at the Israel Bar Association, on September 2, 2021. (photo credit: SPOKESPERSON FOR THE BAR ASSOCIATION)
President Isaac Herzog is seen speaking at the Israel Bar Association, on September 2, 2021.
(photo credit: SPOKESPERSON FOR THE BAR ASSOCIATION)

Controversial pardons and reductions of sentences appear to be the nemesis of members of the Herzog family who have the authority to grant pardons and clemency by virtue of their positions as president of the state.

President Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president, aroused considerable controversy in 1986 when he pardoned 11 senior Shin Bet officers who were involved in the Bus 300 affair, in which two captured Palestinian hijackers of a bus were executed without trial. The senior Herzog also pardoned most members of the Jewish underground who were convicted of attacking Palestinians with the intent of causing their demise.

President Isaac Herzog has done something far less controversial in reducing the two-year sentence of lawyer Gila Naftalin, who was convicted of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the trust funds of her clients and of forging the will of a client who had owned extensive property.

The president of the state grants pardons and reduces sentences on the recommendation of professionals from the Justice Ministry. This was indeed the case with regard to Naftalin, and there was no objection from the prosecution. But the controversy lies in the fact that Naftalin is the sister of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, with whom Herzog has had long and close relations.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall, poses for a photo in front of the holy site (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall, poses for a photo in front of the holy site (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

This has led to sharp criticism on social media platforms with charges of conflict of interest.

According to reports in traditional Hebrew media outlets, there was no conflict of interest, because Herzog was acting on the recommendation of the ministry, though Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar recused himself from any involvement, because Rabinowitz had officiated at his wedding.

People close to Herzog have explained that Naftalin’s sentence was reduced due to critical family reasons on which they declined to elaborate.

This, of course, has led to widespread speculation and has again opened the door to further speculation as to whether Herzog will pardon former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently on trial on various corruption charges.

President Herzog received the recommendation for the reduction of Naftalin's sentence from the relevant parties in the Justice Ministry before he received an official appeal for it. He is not personally acquainted with Gila Naftalin.

At no time, according to his spokespeople, was the matter of the reduction of her sentence raised by Rabbi Rabinowitz.  His sister's predicament never came up in any conversations that he had with Herzog.

Several years ago, the question came up as to whether the president is authorized to pardon defendants before they have been convicted. Supreme Court judges Meir Shamgar and Miriam Ben Porat opined that he could, while Aharon Barak said that he couldn’t.

The question remains open.