The ongoing trial of former justice minister Haim Ramon for alleged sexual misconduct is an example of blatant and systematic "abuse of authority" by the State Attorney's Office that calls into question the very trustworthiness of Israel's legal system, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya president Amnon Rubinstein told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "To my knowledge, [the case] marks the first time the State Attorney's Office has lied to attorneys," Rubinstein said, referring to the office's false claim early in the investigation that it had not carried out secret wiretaps.
State wants Ramon trial to continue behind closed doors
Not only was the false claim itself a criminal act, according to Rubinstein, but the way prosecutors obtained "testimony from the plaintiff has a criminal aspect to it. They [reportedly] told [the plaintiff], 'If you don't lodge a complaint, there will be a trial held against you.' This had no basis in reality! It's an abuse of authority."
The final result, Rubinstein said, was the "expulsion of an Israeli justice minister. And," he added, "it's the second time. The first was [Yaakov] Neeman."
In 1996, Neeman was charged with submitting a perjured court affidavit relating to witness Martin Brown in the Aryeh Deri case. The prosecutors never so much as interviewed Brown, and all that was wrong with Neeman's document was a date - an error that could result from a mere typo.
The charges were summarily and ignominiously tossed out of court, Neeman was unable to reassume his office.
Rubinstein, who is perhaps the foremost authority on Israeli constitutional law, said the consequences of such conduct on the part of the highest law-enforcement authorities in the country were devastating to the proper functioning of the state.
"People are too frightened to even speak about this," he said. "Over the past 20 years, every single prime minister has been the target of investigation... and despite all the noise from the State Attorney's Office, there wasn't a single conviction. You call in all these prime ministers for investigation, and the investigation is publicized all over the world, and there are no [time] limits to these investigations."
One example was "the investigation of [former prime minister] Bibi [Netanyahu]" in the Amedi affair, he said. "As an MK, I asked what crime [Netanyahu] was suspected of committing. I asked, and nobody could answer it. What was the crime with Amedi, that he hired someone he knew when he was prime minister to transport furniture? What's wrong with that? I'm glad I defended him then, even though I wasn't in his political camp."
So dysfunctional was the behavior of the State Attorney's Office in the Ramon affair, Rubinstein said, that the entire legal system must be reexamined to ensure that such conduct does not recur. "This is abuse of power," he declared, quoting historian Lord Acton's maxim that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Rubinstein gave three recommendations to end the systematic "abuse" he said was evidenced in the Ramon affair.
"First, the trial against Haim Ramon must be ended." For Rubinstein, the trial gives the impression that "it's a political witch-hunt," and that "Israel is an insane asylum: While witch-hunts aren't conducted by politicians against government officials, as in some backward countries, they are conducted by government officials against politicians!
"Second," he continued, "there must be an investigation of the State Attorney's Office and the police." Such an investigation could not be conducted by any existing branch of the law-enforcement system, including the Police Investigations Department in the Justice Ministry, he said.
"We need a special prosecutor, as in the United States. When you can't trust the system, you have to bring someone in from the outside. The government should establish this specially for this case," he said.
Rubinstein's third recommendation is for the "establishment of a committee of legal experts to reexamine the entire judicial system." Many problematic aspects of the system had to be reviewed, such as "an attorney-general who is [also] the prosecutor-general, the legal adviser to the government, oversees the State Attorney's Office and gives instructions to the police."
While he believes Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz is an "honest and wise" man, the nature of his office "has to be examined."
So wary is Rubinstein of interference by law-enforcement authorities in such reforms that he even suggested bringing in a legal expert from abroad to oversee the committee, since only a foreigner would be immune to police investigation.
After all, "The government is frightened of the State Attorney's Office, and even of its own shadow," he said.
Rubinstein also proposed three reforms that could be implemented immediately.
"For all criminal cases, I would have the trial begin only after a hearing is held for the defendant," he said, repeating a recommendation he unsuccessfully tried to pass as a legislator. It was rejected following Finance Ministry reservations over the cost of the measure.
"More importantly," he said, "I would make leaking the details of an investigation to the media a criminal offense."
And finally, Rubinstein recommended "limiting the length of an investigation, both the questioning at the police station during the day and the overall length of a secret investigation. That way there won't be a situation in which, for his kiss, Haim Ramon is investigated in the international spotlight for seven hours at the police station; or [Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor] Lieberman being investigated for seven years without even knowing when it will end."
Those elements of Israel's legal system that were turning so patently abusive, Rubinstein said, were "all Israeli inventions. The Israeli legal system created things that don't exist anywhere else in the world."
For example, "In the entire world, there are no indictable offenses that don't get a hearing. In the United States there's a grand jury; in England a committing magistrate; in France a judge investigator," he said. Only in Israel, "One person decides, and one more sends to prison."
While he firmly believes Israel is blessed with "very high-quality" judges, Rubinstein's comparison of Israel's law-enforcement agencies with those abroad has convinced him that "if Israel were to join the European Union, the European Court for Human Rights would cancel a large portion of Israel's criminal law."
"We were always proud of our judicial system. In the past few years, however, I'm not proud of it."