Sparks fly over 'texting judge' during contentious Knesset panel meeting

A general view shows the plenum during the swearing-in ceremony of the 20th Knesset, the new Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem March 31, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A general view shows the plenum during the swearing-in ceremony of the 20th Knesset, the new Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem March 31, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The entire judicial branch and prosecution should not be blackened for the sins of one judge and one prosecutor, the state attorney told a Knesset committee on Monday, as angry arguments broke out between him, judges and MKs.
Speaking to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Shai Nitzan was referring to the judge who improperly texted with a government lawyer in the pretrial hearings in Case 4000, the “Bezeq affair.”
He started by admitting that Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz and Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shaham-Shavit had broken the rules keeping judges and prosecutors as separate branches of the legal system, and complimented judicial watchdog head Eliezer Rivlin on his reporting of the issue.
But then he launched into a defense of the legal system.
“Can we say this specific case teaches about a norm of behavior in the legal system? To the best of my knowledge, this case is very much an aberration. I don’t know of a similar case,” he said.
He added that he had checked with all of the district attorneys and that none of them knew of a similar case.
“We need to be careful not to dump the baby out with the bath water. Problems can happen in any system, but we need to be very careful to say there is a system wide issue,” he said.
The MKs present mostly did not accept Nitzan’s explanation.
Committee chairman and Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky warned that the prosecution and the courts were trampling on the rights of detainees. He suggested that early indications from Rivlin’s report as well as from other reports were that texting between judges and prosecutors is routine.
“If even the legal system is not clean, I tremble for the fate of our democracy,” he said.
He and other MKs also suggested a criminal investigation.
Nitzan hit back against that idea, saying: “We don’t do criminal investigations just to make people happy.”
He noted that Rivlin had recommended disciplinary proceedings.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie pressed Nitzan, asking, “How did this happen? Why didn’t the judge stop it? So it seems like there was a ritual, like this was something standard. Where is your confidence about this?” Nitzan shot back that maybe all of the prosecutors he spoke to were liars, but that it was more likely that people had misinterpreted the allowance of one-sided meetings between judges to discuss classified evidence as being related to illegal conduct.
Justice Ministry oversight head David Rozen, who has been at loggerheads with the prosecution, gave them a pass on this issue, saying that when he was a judge there were no cases like this one.
Former judge Jacob Tzavan, one of the judges who convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and former judge Zvi Segel, who convicted the Hebron shooter Elor Azaria on appeal, were among several prominent judges who attended the meeting to support the judicial branch.
MKs Bezalel Smotrich, Revital Swid and Nurit Koren all slammed the judge-texting scandal and questioned whether the issue was not part of a broader problem.