Whistle-blowers need our help, legislative committee argues

Yacimovich: "In general, when someone blows the whistle on corruption, his superior immediately lodges a complaint against him with the police."

sheli yehimovich 298 (photo credit: Ori Porat)
sheli yehimovich 298
(photo credit: Ori Porat)
The Knesset State Audit Committee will prepare a bill to provide more teeth to existing legislation aimed at protecting whistle-blowers from the wrath of their superiors, committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP) announced on Tuesday at the end of a two-hour-long discussion. The meeting was held at the request of Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Arye Eldad (National Union-NRP) who told the committee that the protection currently offered by the law is inadequate. Coincidentally, it was also held during the same week that Liora Glatt-Berkowitz, the former Central District prosecutor sued the daily Ha'aretz and reporter Baruch Kra for allegedly breaking their promises to keep her identity a secret. Glatt-Berkowitz was prosecuted and fired from her job for leaking to Kra that the police and state prosecution were investigating new and undisclosed allegations against Ariel Sharon that he had received millions of shekels from a businessman friend to repay illegal campaign contributions he had received. "In general, when someone blows the whistle on corruption, his superior immediately lodges a complaint against him with the police," said Yacimovich. "Once the matter is under investigation, the state comptroller cannot issue a protection order." Furthermore, she continued, even if the state comptroller does issue a protection order and the superior may not fire the whistle-blower, "there are all kinds of other sanctions he can apply. For example, he can move the whistle-blower to a different room where he must work alone and without a telephone, assign him humiliating jobs and order his co-workers to stop talking to him." Yacimovich said that even though the complaints of vengeful treatment by bosses came from whistleblowers in different places of work and different parts of the country, there was something similar in the kind of ill-treatment they experienced. The committee hosted four people who had either complained about corruption in the offices they worked, or refused to give in to improper or illegal orders from their superiors. The best known of the whistle-blowers, Rafi Rotem, worked in intelligence in the Tax Authority's department of investigations. He told the committee that in 2003, he discovered that the authority was giving illegal tax breaks to businessmen. After speaking out in public about the alleged corruption, he asked then-state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg for a protection order to prevent the authority from firing or demoting him or lowering his salary. The state comptroller turned down the request. "Over the past four years, the Tax Authority has conducted a lynch against me," Rotem continued. "They hurt me at work, snuck files into my briefcase, threatened, defamed and cursed me, and fabricated 17 complaints to the police against me." Rotem filed suit with the labor court against his employers but the suit was rejected. The case is now under appeal in the national labor court. Lindenstrauss, who appeared to be familiar with the case, said that had he been in office at the time Rotem appealed to the state comptroller for protection, he would have granted it. Ran Cohen (Meretz) recalled that MKs had prepared a bill to reward whistle-blowers with a citation praising their deeds. The citation was to be awarded by the president of the state. However, Ezer Weizman, the president at the time, refused to cooperate, saying he did not want to reward "squealers." Six months ago, Cohen asked Katsav for his approval. Katsav agreed. His next step was to persuade the justice minister, Haim Ramon. Before he could do so, Ramon resigned in order to stand trial.