Israel Bar Association (IBA) head Avi Himi resigned Tuesday from his post at the helm of the influential body.
For opponents of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s far-reaching judicial reform, Himi’s resignation could not have come at a worse time: in recent weeks he has become the face of opposition among the legal community to the reform. He has spoken at the mass rallies and warned in stark language of Israel’s slide into dictatorship if the reforms are implemented.
And he has done all of that from his lofty perch as head of the IBA.
On Tuesday, Himi fell from that perch amid accusations that he sexually harassed a female attorney who sought his help in securing appointment as a judge. According to a Channel 13 report, Himi exposed himself and masturbated during a video call with the woman.
Himi did not deny the episode, but said that it was consensual and that he had had a long-term relationship with the female attorney whom he once recommended for the bench.
The issues raised by this incident are many.
How do powerful men treat women who need them for career advancement? How does the head of the Israel Bar Association put forward a recommendation for a woman with whom he has had intimate relations? What in the world is going on at the IBA?
The latter question is prompted because Himi is the second successive Bar Association president to quit in a sex-for-judgeship scandal. In 2019, Efi Nave resigned following accusations that he put forward candidates in exchange for sexual favors.
Himi took over from Nave, promising to clean up the IBA and rehabilitate its public image. Well, we now see how successful that was.
The situation was made worse because the IBA is not just an insignificant professional guild. The Bar is the representative body of lawyers in this country and it plays a vital role in setting ethical standards. More importantly, two IBA representatives sit on the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee that approves the appointment of new judges.
Levin wants to change this committee’s composition, expand its membership to 11 members and kick out the two IBA representatives while bringing in others selected by the government.
This is why the allegations against Himi are so embarrassing for opponents of Levin’s plan. It is tough to argue that replacing Bar members with politicians in the judicial selection process is a threat to democracy when the IBA has proven itself, once again, to be anything but a bastion of professional integrity.
This is a shame, because the bad behavior of one lawyer – as prominent as he may be – should not be allowed to undercut a strong argument against Levin’s proposal to pack the judicial selection committee with government appointees, all but ensuring that the government will be able to hand-pick its judges.
There is something else corrosive about this whole episode: it breeds enormous cynicism.
Himi, until a month ago, was not exactly a household name. All of a sudden, and seemingly out of nowhere, he emerged from the pack as a leading voice of the opposition to the reform, a keynote speaker at the anti-reform protests, and someone who was the subject of an extensive profile last week in the Friday magazine of one of the country’s leading Hebrew dailies.
Himi has tried to defend himself by saying that the timing of the accusations against him is not coincidental, and that those who leaked the story wanted to shut him up.
His detractors, on the other hand, say that his sudden emergence as a leader of the opposition to the reform was carefully designed to ingratiate him with the Left, who would then protect him when the story – as Himi must have known – would eventually come out.
Lost in all of this – in all the explanations of Machiavellian motivations – is the victim: the female attorney and the degradation she must have felt due to Himi’s alleged behavior.
Protecting her and other women from the predatory behavior of men in powerful positions is what the public discourse about the episode should be about, and the desperate need for the Israeli Bar Association to put its house in order.