Mayor of central Israeli city to stay on despite indictment and calls for resignation
Supreme Court Justice has ruled that the continuation of Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar's term in office must be deliberated soon – but hearing was set only for the end of May.
Ramat Gan's mayor has expressed no intention to step down despite being indicted a week and a half ago, while a 2011 petition asking the High Court of Justice to order him to resign will not be heard until the end of May, even though Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel ruled on Friday that deliberations must be scheduled “soon.”
Zvi Bar, 78, mayor of Ramat Gan for the past 24 years, was charged with accepted bribes amounting to NIS 1.7 million from real estate developers in exchange for advancing their interests. The prosecution is also accusing him of fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The prosecution has enlisted real estate developer Emanuel Arbib as a state’s witness against Bar.
The petition to the High Court of Justice was filed in July of 2011 by Ramat Gan city councilman Dr. Avi Leilien. The petition is based on the announcement by the State Prosecutor’s office three months earlier that it intended to file an indictment against Bar, conditional on a hearing. In the only deliberation on the petition, which was held eight months ago, the court acceded to the state’s request to wait for the prosecution’s decision and only after that to examine the issue.
However, despite the charges against him, Bar is adamantly refusing to resign as mayor. Moreover, the 78-year-old mayor, one of the most veteran council heads in Israel, is not ruling out the possibility that he will run for a sixth consecutive term in the election to be held at the end of this year.
By law, Bar indeed does not have to resign. The Local Authorities Law (Election of the Council Head and his Deputy) stipulates that a council head will be deposed from his position only if a court has convicted him of a crime that bears moral turpitude. However, the law also grants the city council authority to depose the mayor when it deems his behavior as “not befitting the status of the head of an authority.” Setting a procedure like this in motion requires a majority of 75 percent of the council members and the interior minister’s approval.
The petitioner, Leilien, objects to the fact that the deliberation at the High Court of Justice will be held over three months from now. “This is perplexing, to say the least, because after all our claim is that the mayor cannot continue to serve for even one minute when there is such a grave indictment against him,” he says, noting that he intends to petition the court to move the deliberation forward or to come to a decision without an additional deliberation.
“When you look at the matter from a moral perspective,” he says, “it is appropriate that Zvi Bar leave his position immediately and fight for his innocence from home. The time has come for the Israeli public to talk about morality and values and not only whether this is legal or not.”
In the wake of a previous petition by Leilien to the High Court of Justice, Bar resigned in 2010 as the head of the local planning and building commission. In May 2011 he also left the district commission. In the wake of his resignation the petition became superfluous and the court rejected it.
However, Leilien is now pinning hopes on the words of the Supreme Court President at the time, Dorit Beinisch, in the ruling: “In appropriate circumstances it is fitting that a public figure not continue to serve in a public position or a public role, even if an indictment has not yet been filed against him or decision taken to file an indictment against him, if the accumulated administrative evidence justifies this, in order not to damage the public’s trust in the integrity of public administration.”
However, immediately after the filing of the indictment against Bar, the State Prosecutor’s Office submitted a statement to the High Court of Justice clarifying that in its view the mayor of Ramat Gan need not resign from his position.
Attorney Ilan Bombach, who is representing the Ramat Gan municipality at the High Court of Justice, argues: “Transferring Mr. Bar out of his position as mayor will lead to serious and irreversible harm, which will cause his life to swerve form its path and blot his reputation socially even before the court has ruled on his guilt.”
Bar’s rivals are certain he will not run for mayor again and in recent weeks they have begun to prepare for the municipal election scheduled for October 22. Leilien has already announced he intends to run for mayor. Other expected candidates are Yisrael Zinger, a city councilman, and former MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who was 34th on the Likud- Yisrael Beiteinu slate and failed to enter the 19th Knesset. Shraga Brosh, who is close to Bar and was formerly president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, has also been mentioned as possibly running of mayor.