Texts between Kahlon, indicted judge raise eyebrows

Karif already on trial in sex for judgeship scandal

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Texts between Moshe Kahlon and disgraced, soon-to-be-indicted former judge Eti Karif have raised eyebrows about whether the “sex for judgeship” scandal may have implicated the finance minister as well, Channel 13 reported Monday.
It appears that no charges will be filed against Kahlon. When police questioned him, it was as a witness and not as a suspect. Still, the texts between them imply a potentially romantic connection at a time when Kahlon was on the committee deciding whether Karif would become a judge.
Karif was eventually appointed as a magistrate’s court judge in Netanya.
On Tuesday, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel called for a state commission to probe Kahlon and the Judicial Selection Committee regarding broader policy issues that go beyond the limited view of a criminal investigation.
Also on Tuesday, public-relations officials for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who are suspected of witness intimidation in his corruption cases pointed to the leaks about Kahlon as a reason to block the police from being able to access their cellphones in a probe of their actions.
Regarding the Kahlon-Karif texts, to the extent that to date Kahlon was not treated as a suspect even though former Israel Bar Association president Efi Nave was indicted in the sex-for-judgeship scandal along with Karif, it appears that any evidence against him was much weaker.
On December 3, the state prosecution announced it would likely indict Nave and Karif as part of a sex-for-judgeship bribery scandal.
Nave once controlled the deciding votes on the Judicial Selection Committee, and Karif now stands accused – subject to a pre-indictment hearing – of engaging in an intimate relationship with him in exchange for his support to get her a judgeship.
Evidence against Nave and Karif shows that they did have a romantic relationship, and the only question is whether this illegally influenced Nave on Karif’s behalf.
In contrast, many of the texts regarding Kahlon and Karif date from after she was already appointed. At that point, the law would have nothing to say about their relationship, whatever it might have been.
Regarding a meeting they held before Karif was appointed, it appears there is insufficient evidence that Karif offered Kahlon anything beyond a pitch to support her.
After her appointment, Karif sent several controversial texts. She suggested that Kahlon meet her at night, adding: “I’ll be alone and really want to see you.”
She thanked him for his support for her candidacy as a judge, saying: “There is no possibility that I will disappoint you. With every possible meaning. Kisses. I love you.”
But when questioned about these texts, both Kahlon and Karif downplayed them as playful, if not entirely appropriate, texting banter.
In response to the Channel 13 report, Kahlon said he had told the police his side of the story, denied any wrongdoing and said he only supported Karif because the judges on the selection committee did.
Karif, who erased the texts from her cellphone but had to answer for them when the police managed to recover them, said the texts were not illegal and that when she erased them, there was no probe of her relations with Kahlon.
The broader context also differentiates between Kahlon and Nave. There are no other suspicions against Kahlon.
In contrast, Nave was suspected of engaging in a second problematic intimate relationship – with a female lawyer married to a male magistrate’s judge – to gain Nave’s support for the male judge’s promotion to the district court.
Though that case was ultimately closed, the two affairs led Nave to resign as Bar Association president in January 2019.
In addition, then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, interviewed on Channel 12 in January 2019 about the Nave saga, defended herself against calls for her resignation due to her political alliance with Nave in the selection of judges.
Shaked lashed out at her critics, claiming that in a prior scandal involving a Bar Association official who had formed an alliance with judges on the Judicial Selection Committee, no one called for the judges to resign because of their association with the official.
Shaked, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other prominent members of the Judicial Selection Committee were expected to give testimony to police as fact witnesses at some point.
Shaked was also questioned as a witness by the police regarding Karif. She said she supported Karif’s candidacy as part of a broader series of agreements among different factions on the Judicial Selection Committee.
Police sources said it may have been a mistake to not question Kahlon under caution.
But Kahlon's associates said the police had conducted a comprehensive investigation and found no wrongdoing whatsoever. They said he met and spoke to many candidates for judicial advancement and that Kreif's promotion was a consensus choice.
Kahlon announced ahead of the closing of Knesset lists in January that he would not run for reelection to the Knesset. Sources close to Kahlon denied it had anything to do with Kreif and said he had already decided to end his political career after the poor showing of his Kulanu Party in the April election.