Barak fails in mediation effort between Metzger and Mazuz

Supreme Court President Aharon Barak on Wednesday tried to broker a compromise between Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, but ran into a stone wall in the person of Metzger's lawyer, David Liba'i, who refused to hear of it. The High Court of Justice heard Metzger's petition to erase the second half of a 30-page report issued by Mazuz on April 3, 2006. The report followed a police investigation into allegations that Metzger received special discounts from the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem during last year's Pessah and Succot holidays. In the first half of the report, Mazuz wrote that there was insufficient evidence to indict him. However, in the second half of the report, he blasted the Chief Rabbi for what he described as "significant administrative flaws in his conduct," and recommended that the Minister of Justice consider convening the Religious Courts Judges Selection Committee to discussing firing Metzger, and also suggested to Metzger to step down voluntarily. Liba'i argued that Mazuz should not have issued such a damaging report without first holding a hearing for the Chief Rabbi so that Metzger could defend himself against the allegations. Instead, he charged, Mazuz's opinion was actually a conviction of Metzger. "You can't do things like this," said Liba'i angrily. "What can Metzger do after the publication of a report like this?" The state's representative, Attorney Odit Corinaldi-Sirkis, told the court that Mazuz had no choice but to explain why he had recommended that the Justice Minister consider taking administrative steps against Metzger. This was the reason he had gone into detail in his report about the Chief Rabbi's allegedly improper conduct. She said that since Mazuz was not authorized to deal with administrative matters, his report was only a recommendation. The authority lay in the hands of the Justice Minister and he was the one who would grant Metzger a hearing before deciding whether to take steps against him. The court did not appear to take seriously Libai's argument that Mazuz had not granted Metzger a hearing. However, the justices indicated that Mazuz's charges against the Chief Rabbi were so categorical that it left the justice minister with no leeway to decide for himself about what to do about Metzger. This was particularly true since the government was bound in general to heed the opinion of the attorney-general. It was at this point that Barak intervened with his compromise proposal. The court would not strike the second half of Mazuz's opinion, as Liba'i had demanded, proposed Barak. Instead, Mazuz would publicly declare that the Minister of Justice was free to decide what to do about Metzger. According to the proposal, Mazuz would sign a statement to the effect that, "there is nothing in my opinion which obliges the Minister of Justice to take administrative measures against Metzger. The justice minister will hear Metzger and his decision will be made on the basis of all the material at hand." Barak also proposed that Mazuz declare that his opinion did not include charges of moral turpitude against the Chief Rabbi. The state was reluctant to accept Barak's proposal but it did not have to respond to it. In a stern voice, Liba'i told Barak, "This is not acceptable. Some statements simply cannot be made." The court adjourned and will hand down its decision at a later date.