Israeli Mayor Facing Fraud Charges Pledges Not to Seek-relection, but Won't Step Down

High Court rejects petition calling for Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar's resignation, but says it would be inappropriate for him to run again; decision likely to impact elections in other cities where mayors are under probe.

Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar pledged not to seek reelection in October’s municipal race due to allegations of bribery and fraud, following the High Court of Justice’s ruling Sunday that while he would not be forced to resign, it would be wrong for him to run again.

Following the hearing, Bar said he felt calm and relaxed, and complimented the justices. “I came in as a mayor and I’m leaving as mayor and I will carry out the ruling in letter and spirit. It will all be for the good of this wonderful city. I saw the direction, the logic. It was a burden on me as well.”

During the hearing, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who headed a seven-judge panel said, “We believe that from a public perspective, it is not reasonable at this point that the local council head continue in his post. We suggest that there be a commitment not to run in the coming elections.”

Bar’s attorney, Navot Tel-Zur, said he was satisfied with the decision, which meant the mayor was not being ousted “immediately, following the indictment against him, but that he would be allowed to fully complete his term.”

Tel-Zur said his client’s pledge not to run again “was made out of sincere concern for the city, out of the understanding that in the coming year he would be busy with the criminal case where he planned to fight to prove his innocence.”

Tel-Zur said the ruling was the right one in Bar’s case as well as in the cases of other mayors. “As long as the law has not been amended to state that a head of local government steps down following an indictment, this must be the legal outcome.” Tel-Zur said at the moment there was no majority in the Knesset to change the law, “and harm public officials who have been indicted.”

Ramat Gan City Councilman Avi Lilian, who petitioned the High Court to have Bar removed from office said: “This is a huge victory for the rule of law. Every day the public hears about mayors on trial. The public has had it. ... There will no longer be a situation in which a mayor charged with bribery continues in office. This mayor will not be running again.”

Former Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who is running for mayor of Ramat Gan, said: “The High Court did right by putting an end to the corrupt use crooked public officials are making of the presumption of innocence to hold onto their seats and continue to cause damage to the public.” Shama-Hacohen said principles like the rule of law and public confidence in elected officials had until today been crushed underfoot all over Israel. “From now on, mayors will be extremely careful,” he said. “The High Court has done right to set a new standard, which should be legislated so that there can be no doubt or argument.”

In an affidavit to the court, Ilan Bombach, representing the Ramat Gan City Council, said he believed the court had made the right decision “and had not set a precedent that a mayor can be ousted from office. ... This is a matter for the legislature.” Bombach called the High Court’s ruling “a very wise, reasonable and logical proposal.”

The court was first petitioned to oust Bar in 2011, when only a draft indictment had been served against the mayor. The actual indictment, as well as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s position that the Ramat Gan City Council’s decision not to require Bar to step down was unreasonable in the extreme, as Lilian had stated in his petition, moved the High Court one step further. Although the court did not rule that Bar must leave office immediately, sources close to Weinstein said Bar was pleased with the ruling. According to the sources, the ruling conveys the message Weinstein had wanted, and the Bar ruling can become a precedent. Bat Yam City Councilman Eli Yariv welcomed the court’s decision and said he expected it to apply to Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lahiani, who is also facing indictment.

Among the mayors facing charges are Nesher Mayor David Amar, over whether he had paid 23 years of municipal taxes for additions to his home that were twice the size of what his building permit had allowed. The case against Amar lay dormant for two years. However, when the story broke in Haaretz in February, the official in charge of the government unit investigating the enforcement of building violations, Shlomi Avital, was transferred to a different position and a new assistant state prosecutor, Amit Ofek, was appointed to handle what were considered flagship cases, such as Amar’s.

Haaretz has learned that additional cases are awaiting investigation, among them of two deputy mayors of the Haifa suburb Tirat Carmel, Morris Binyamin and Yitzhak Vanunu, who are suspected of carrying out construction without permits.

Ofer Vaknin