'Elections should decide Steinitz, Yishai fates'

High Court hints that the public should decide ministers' fate over Carmel fire handling in upcoming elections.

Firefighter during Carmel fire 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Firefighter during Carmel fire 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The public should decide the fate of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for their roles in the Carmel fire disaster, the High Court of Justice hinted on Wednesday to petitioners seeking a court order to force Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire them.
No decision was given and it was not clear if and when the court would render one, particularly with upcoming elections essentially resetting all ministerial appointments.
The justices repeatedly noted that former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had said the question of Yishai’s and Steinitz’s responsibility for the fire and its aftermath was a public issue.
“Does the court need to do more than what the comptroller called for?” it asked the petitioners. It also emphasized that Lindenstrauss had consciously assigned “special responsibility” to the two ministers, but not “personal responsibility,” which he had assigned to others.
The petitioners – Ze’ev Even Chen, a former senior police figure whose daughter was among the 44 people killed in the December 2010 disaster, as well as the Movement for the Quality of Law and others – believed they had a strong case due to the emphatic criticism Lindenstrauss had directed at Yishai and Steinitz.
Attorneys for the petitioners tried an emotional appeal in response to the justices’ hands-off, legalistic approach, asserting that the state comptroller’s report had been completely ignored by the government.
They also said that if the High Court did not act there would be no more accountability by public servants and future comptroller reports would be ignored as well.
Failing to order the ministers to be fired, they said, would be “clipping the wings” of the state comptroller and might even discourage him from being as tough as necessary in future conclusions out of fear of being ignored.
The state shot back that it was completely unconstitutional for courts to get involved in ministerial appointments and dismissals.
It also argued that the prime minister had grappled with the report but had decided that the most important response was to learn lessons and implement reforms, not focus on blaming and firing public servants who were involved.
The court also said it did not dispute the state comptroller’s conclusions that Yishai and Steinitz had made major errors in their job performance.
However, it indicated that it could get involved only with ethical and criminal issues, and could not judge how bad a minister’s job performance needed to be in order for the minister to be fired, even if the errors led to major tragedies.