My Person of the Year: Law |

Trials and Tribulations of Israel's Legal Gatekeepers

The attorney general and the state prosecutor have very different styles, and there’s not much love lost between them. But both have emphasized the fight against corruption. The question is, what happens when Lador retires at year’s end?

Ido Baum
Ido Baum
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Ido Baum
Ido Baum

The worst-guarded secret at the Justice Ministry is the chilly relationship between Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. The two are like oil and water: They don’t mix.

The chilliness is not expressed in public. On the contrary. Weinstein likes good manners and English culture, and always treats Lador with respect, even heaping praise on him. Lador, in turn, recognizes his place in the hierarchy. In that sense, he is the quintessential public servant.

The most typical example of this is his public acquiescence to Weinstein’s decision to close the file on the straw companies allegedly held by Avigdor Lieberman, contrary to Lador’s advice. And people who have heard Lador expressing himself say that the gap between him and Weinstein is larger than the apparent differences expressed in Weinstein’s public announcement on the dismissal of the case.

Squabbles over honor, however, are conducted out of sight. In intimate discussions, Lador is often dismissive of Weinstein’s legal expertise. This lack of respect toward the boss has seeped downward, affecting other senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office.

There are those who say that following the departure of Weinstein’s predecessor, Menachem Mazuz, Lador was hoping to establish himself as someone with an equal standing to the incoming attorney general, based on his vast experience and reputation as a fierce fighter against public corruption. In this he was disappointed. This anticipation was based on precedent. Lador previously served under two state prosecutors who occasionally overshadowed the higher-ranked attorney generals at the time. Edna Arbel was viewed as someone with more determination and feistiness than that possessed by then Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, for example, who was appointed during her tenure. Yosef Harish served in the shadow of Dorit Beinisch.

Weinstein leapfrogged over Lador in getting the attorney general post in 2010, after Lador had previously beaten him out in the race for state prosecutor, in 2007. Lador enjoys a combative image that somewhat allows him to overshadow Weinstein, but this is not always translated into practical impact on Weinstein’s decisions.

Weinstein has surrounded himself with trusted advisers who provide him with a base of support. He views himself as a fighter for civil service probity no less than the State Prosecutor is considered to be. People around him will note his achievements, such as the blocking of unseemly appointments, the suppression of antidemocratic legislation and the charge sheet presented in the case of Lieberman’s ambassador, pointing these out as an indication that he is not receiving due credit.

The battle against public corruption does not cover the full scope of the state prosecutor’s job, but in the public eye this is its major component. When Lador leaves his post in December, we won’t yet be able to assess the final balance of his achievements. Much of his reputation is now invested in the appeal he filed over the partial acquittal of Ehud Olmert in the Moshe Talansky case ‏(in which Olmert was charged with receiving cash from the American fund-raiser‏) and the Rishon Tours case ‏(with its charges of double-dipping into travel funds‏). There is a chance that the Supreme Court will rule on these cases before the end of the year. In contrast, the Holyland case, in which Lador was the main architect for the prosecution, and the man who signed off on the state’s-witness agreement with the late Shmuel Dachner, is far from over.

Points for winning or losing the Lieberman case will be attributed to Weinstein, but Lador’s successor will have to deal with the implications of the decision, as well as with court rulings in a list of other cases involving mayors and local council heads, most prominent of which are the ones charging Zvi Bar ‏(mayor of Ramat Gan‏) and Shlomi Lahiani ‏(mayor of Bat Yam‏). In addition, the results of the Harpaz investigation will also have to be dealt with.

Not the end of the battle

There is no need to mourn the upcoming Weinstein era in advance as the end of the battle against public corruption, even in the absence of the confident passion that characterized Lador’s term.

For one thing, Lador nominated several combative prosecutors of his own liking to senior positions. Prominent in the fight against public corruption are, for example, the deputy state prosecutor for criminal affairs, attorney Eli Abarbanel, who led the case against Olmert and is considered a contender for Lador’s post. Additionally, there is the head of the division for finances and taxation, attorney Liat Ben-Ari Sheweky, who spearheaded the Holyland case. Another prominent member of this group is the head of the economics crimes division, attorney Dan Eldad.

The most prominent lawyer that Lador couldn’t push forward, despite his wishes, is attorney Uri ‏(“Some judges are asses”‏) Korb, the prosecutor in Olmert’s trial. People at the State Prosecutor’s Office say that Korb is a good and experienced attorney who is paying the price for a lapse of judgment when he shot his mouth off about judges before a law-school class three years ago.

Secondly, Weinstein does not want to be viewed as a weak attorney general. Someone who has worked with him defines him as “a one-case lawyer,” saying that “he can’t deal with anything else when he’s deep into a case.” Up until very recently, this particular case was the Lieberman file. The attorney general delved into the tiniest details, to the point where he gave advice to the prosecution during the trial itself. In Weinstein’s view, this is a simple case with strong evidence that should end swiftly and effectively.

The attorney general prefers fighting corruption by way of such smaller cases, rather than via far more complex mega-cases. The latter are the kind that Lador specialized in earlier in his career when he was the prosecutor during the bank shares regulation crisis.

In view of the gaps in the worldviews held by Lador and Weinstein, the appointment of the next state prosecutor is critical on a personal level, in addition to considerations of differences in their principles, with Lador being more combative and Weinstein being more subtle. The government is about to appoint a search committee, headed by Weinstein. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has not yet decided whether to ask the committee to recommend one candidate or three for the job.

Based on nonbinding precedents, the committee generally recommends one candidate. That was the case when Lador and his predecessor, Eren Shendar, were appointed. But the question became the basis of a public and ugly spat between Attorney General Mazuz and Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, who wanted the committee to recommend three candidates to the government. Mazuz argued that the nomination of a state prosecutor should be entirely free of political intervention. Ultimately, Friedman relented.

Weinstein is determined that, this time as well, the committee he is to head will propose only one candidate. He championed this approach with other senior appointments during the tenure of Yaakov Neeman as justice minister, who assented to his demands. In this way, Weinstein gathered around him a circle of young senior officials who are beholden to him. The appointment of a state prosecutor is more complicated. Livni is not Friedman. Weinstein is not Mazuz. It is not at all self-evident that the justice minister will yield to the attorney general.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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