Attorney Uri Corb is lucky there's no death penalty in Israel. If there were, the deputy Jerusalem district prosecutor would be swinging at the end of a rope in the town square. This is because Corb has committed a grave, unforgivable crime: insulting judges, even Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. And in Israel, we can hurl vitriol at the prime minister and invective at Knesset members; we can even dishonor the president. But judges? Perish the thought. They cannot be criticized, and if anyone has the audacity to do so, he must be dismissed, eliminated, beheaded - so that everyone will behold and be scared.
Criticism of judges and the judicial system is permitted only when it is "sincere and courteous." If it is not, a person could be accused of committing the criminal offense known as "disrespecting the court." Why is there is no such law to protect the prime minister or the president? Is their dignity less important? Is their blood less red?
No one denies that Corb's remarks were harsh and offensive. He said there are judges who take leave of their common sense when they take their seats on the bench. He called some of them "major asses." But do these harsh words justify his targeted assassination?
Some senior judges have been quoted as saying that Corb should not be allowed to appear in court for a "protracted period." That amounts to a call for his dismissal. The Courts Administration, in an unusual - and unusually hasty - move, demanded that the Israeli Bar Association expedite appropriate disciplinary measures against Corb. Retired judge Tzippora Bron said she would not allow him to remain in the system for even one hour and that she expected the bar association to suspend him forthwith. This is tantamount to a professional death sentence. Retired judge Hadassa Ben-Itto said his apology was laughable. What does she want him to do, perform hara-kiri?
After all, when Corb was caught red-handed, he hastened to apologize in the fullest possible manner, saying it pained him that his words had wronged the judicial system. He apologized for offending the judges and explained that the published remarks do not reflect his actual feelings. Later, he sent an additional e-mail of apology to every prosecutor in the country. How can he possibly be more humiliated?
Judges need to realize that they are not above criticism. Precisely because they play such an important role and are at the apex of the pyramid, it is incumbent upon them to heed even the harshest attacks. Anyone can take "courteous and sincere" criticism, but it takes wisdom to hear extreme and bitter commentary. This is what freedom of speech is all about - to leave room for extreme statements, without which we would sink into mediocrity and conformism. Therefore, a self-confident judicial system should accept criticism and take advantage of it to examine and correct its mistakes.
Everyone knows that not every judge is fit for the job. Some do their work devotedly and professionally, but some do not. There are Supreme Court rulings that represent blatant and arrogant interventions into the allocation of budgets in the economy, despite this being the job of the executive and legislative branches of government. And who isn't aware of the excessive slowness that litigation parties must suffer through when cases drag on year after year and justice turns into injustice?
Corb is a talented attorney who has handled hundreds of criminal and civil cases during his years at the District Prosecutor's Office. His colleagues have gone on record, stating that he is a prosecutor who is "honest, values-driven, devoted and highly professional, and regards the judicial system with respect."
True, he allowed his tongue to trip him up, but he has already gone to Canossa. He has learned his lesson and should therefore not be subjected to any more heavy artillery fire. It's no great achievement to stomp on someone who's already lying defeated on the ground, writhing in pain and asking for forgiveness.
It would be correct to try him in a quick disciplinary process, and to sentence him with a rebuke. But it would also be correct to allow him to return to the prosecutor's office. We don't want everyone who seeks to criticize the judicial system to be dumbstruck with fear. And we must not forget that where the penitent stand, even the completely just cannot stand.
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