NGO Asks High Court to Force Indicted Israeli Mayor to Step Down

As local elections approach, good-government group says Bat Yam mayor should also be blocked from running again.

The Ometz good-government group has asked the High Court of Justice to order Bat Yam’s mayor to step down and rescind his bid for reelection after he was charged this week with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The petition Wednesday asked the court to hear the matter urgently given that municipal elections are only three weeks away. Both the attorney general and Mayor Shlomo Lahiani are to respond to the petition within a week.

The petition notes that each crime Lahiani is suspected of took place “while exploiting his position and using the municipality and the power given him as a platform for committing these alleged violations.”

Lahiani is suspected of taking bribes from local businessmen in return for permits. He is also suspected of taking loans from subordinates and for not revealing his stake in a local newspaper that received ads worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from the city over the years.

The petition also refers to the court’s ruling in the cases of Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger and Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso. It says that taking these rulings into account, one would expect Lahiani to resign immediately. Last month the High Court ruled that while Rochberger and Gapso, who are both facing graft charges, could seek reelection, they had to step down immediately.

“There can be no other conclusion from the court’s ruling, particularly since the indictment against Mr. Lahiani contains much graver charges than the indictments against the other mayors, and especially since the elections are so close,” the petition stated.

“But Mr. Lahiani seems to be in no hurry. He deigned to announce yesterday that he is very respectful of the court and would consider next week whether to resign or not. There is nothing to consider.”

Ometz also argued that Lahiani should not just resign but be blocked from running again. It noted that since Lahiani is likely to be reelected, there is a chance the election will be for nothing since the High Court might then force Lahiani to resign after the elections and Bat Yam voters will be dragged into another election campaign.

“Not rescinding Lahiani’s candidacy makes the Bat Yam elections impure, ineffective and not final,” Ometz wrote.

The reference is to comments the justices made in the Rochberger-Gapso case, in which the court could not find legal grounds to block their standing for reelection. The court added, however, that if they were reelected, the local councils would have to decide whether to impeach them, and those decisions would be subject to judicial review. The court thus hinted that their candidacies might be superfluous.

In its petition, Ometz tried to distinguish between Lahiani’s case and those of Gapso and Rochberger, saying Lahiani’s case was more similar to that of Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, who is accused of taking some NIS 2 million in bribes. The petition against Bar ended in a compromise; the court did not order him to resign, while he agreed to drop his bid for reelection. The court, however, did not actually rule that this was the preferred course of action.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will have to respond to Ometz’s petition, and it’s doubtful he’ll support Lahiani’s candidacy. In the petition against Bar, which did not address reelection but only the mayor’s position, Weinstein thought Bar should resign.

In the Gapso and Rochberger cases he suggested that they remain in their posts and broadly hinted that the charges against them weren’t serious enough to consider blocking their reelection bids.

Moti Kimche