The rule of law

Alarm sounded by Prof. Amnon Rubinstein over use of wiretapping in the Ramon case must not go unheeded.

haim ramon thinks 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haim ramon thinks 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It is self-evident that, while the rule of law should apply equally to all citizens, law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to follow the law completely, both in letter and in spirit. For this reason, the alarm sounded this week by Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, one of the country's most respected legal minds, must not go unheeded. Rubinstein - an ex-Meretz MK and cabinet minister - is a former law professor who is currently president of the prestigious Inderdisciplinary Center Herzliya. His credentials in the field of constitutional law are impeccable. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Rubinstein lashed out at what he termed the "abuse of authority" by the State Attorney's Office in the trial of former justice minister Haim Ramon for alleged sexual misconduct, saying it called into question the trustworthiness of Israel's legal system. After initially denying it had tapes and transcripts of wiretapped conversations relating to the case, the prosecution last week reversed itself and admitted that it had. Rubinstein said this was a new low in Israeli legal history. "To my knowledge, it marks the first time the State Attorney's Office has lied to attorneys," he said. Not only did the false claim by the office constitute a criminal act, according to Rubinstein, but it led to the downfall of a justice minister. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz came to the defense of the State Attorney Office's on Monday, telling Ramon's lawyer, Dan Scheinemann, that there had been "innocent mistakes" in the prosecution's handling of wiretapped conversations, but insisting there was no truth to his claim that evidence was deliberately kept from him. Mazuz should know better. The claim that the prosecution had withheld evidence, said Scheinemann, supported his argument that "Heh," the woman who alleges that Ramon forcibly kissed her, had been browbeaten into lodging a complaint against him. In a bizarre twist, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, the prime minister's military attach , told the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Monday that it was he who had persuaded Heh to lodge a complaint against Ramon. When Scheinemann asked Shamni in court whether he had a political agenda in persuading Heh to complain, he replied in the negative. "As a commander, a citizen and a father, I hope that all IDF commanders would do the same," Shamni said. "What happened is that the media made Heh's life miserable and I hope this will not deter others from lodging complaints." Rubinstein said the case against Ramon appeared to be "a political witch-hunt" and should be thrown out of court. He called for an investigation of the State Attorney's Office and the police. However, this could not be carried out by an existing branch of the law-enforcement system. What Israel needs is a special prosecutor, such as in the US, he said. "When you can't trust the system, you have to bring someone in from the outside," he said. "The government should establish this specially for this case." Finally, Rubinstein recommended the "establishment of a committee of legal experts to reexamine the entire judicial system." Many problematic aspects of the system had to be reviewed, he said, 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." "The Israeli legal system created things that don't exist anywhere else in the world," Rubinstein said. For example, nowhere in the world are there 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 another sends to prison." The US has an Office of Special Counsel. Rubinstein has ruled out standing for president, but perhaps he would accept the position he himself is proposing, if it is created by the government - that of special counsel. Israel seems to need one.