Israeli Justice Minister Used Bar Association Chief to Recruit Party Members, Documents Suggest

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File photo: Efraim Nave with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, November 2018.
File photo: Efraim Nave with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, November 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked allegedly used the president of the Israel Bar Association at the time, Efraim Nave, to recruit members to Habayit Hayehudi, her political party at the time, according to documents obtained by TheMarker. She also allegedly had regulations on lawyer advertising changed to suit a bankruptcy law firm, Lirom Sende, that recruited members for the party, the documents indicate.

Over the past several years, Nave, who resigned as Bar Association president in January, signed up several hundred lawyers as members of Habayit Hayehudi, with Shaked’s knowledge, and informed her office staff of the activity, according to the documents.

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Nave stepped down as president after it emerged that he had smuggled a girlfriend in and out of Israel, evading border controls, apparently in an attempt to keep their joint vacation from affecting his divorce proceedings. Allegations also later emerged that he had traded sexual favors in exchange for promoting judicial candidates.

Shaked, who was the No. 2 figure in Habayit Hayehudi, resigned from the party in December 2018 along with party chairman Naftali Bennett to form the Hayamin Hehadash party.

The Lirom Sende law firm was also recently implicated in other suspicions involving Shaked. The suspicions emerged from documents obtained by Army Radio reporter Hadas Shtaif and Gila Paisahov, who writes for independent news website The Hottest Place in Hell. The two reporters’ information indicates that a significant number of the firm’s lawyers joined Habayit Hayehudi, and that attorneys at the firm were pressured to do so.

Nave is suing Shtaif for disclosing information found on an old cell phone of his and for employing a hacker to extract information from the phone, some of which related to the alleged sexual favors that he traded. The information was turned over to the police.

Shaked admitted, after the allegations were reported by Army Radio, that she was aware that lawyers from the Sende firm had joined her party en masse. She said she welcomed it. “That said, of course she was not aware that there was pressures to join. Of course, Shaked objects to the use of any pressure to sign people up to her party,” her office told Army Radio.

It has not previously been reported that it was Nave who was allegedly responsible for coordinating the membership drive at the law firm with Shaked’s bureau, or that he is said to have initiated and advanced the regulatory changes that would help the firm. Documents obtained TheMarker also indicate that Shaked’s office was aware that the firm’s lawyers were reluctant to pay the party membership fee.

In early 2017, Ziv Lahav, who manages the law firm, informed Nave that he had collected more than 100 party membership application forms, which he asked to have transferred to Shaked’s office. He told Nave that the lawyers were reluctant to pay the membership fee themselves. Nave and Lahav contacted an assistant to Shaked at the time, Elyashiv Amitzur, on the matter. Amitzur stated that the law mandates that party members pay for their own membership dues to allay suspicions of vote buying.

Purportedly on Amitzur’s recommendation, Lahav ultimately suggested that the staff pay the dues out of their own pockets, and the law firm would pay them back in cash, a move that is possibly against the law. Amitzur directed Nave on how to mark the membership forms so that Shaked and her confidants could identify them.

Lawyers at the firm were sent a text message stating: “Those who signed up to Habayit Hayehudi and paid cash will be getting their money back. The code: 1720. Update after you’ve paid.”

There’s no dispute that Shaked and her associates were aware of the mass membership drive at Lirom Sende, although the firm, as detailed below, denies that there was such a drive. The party has some 28,000 registered members, so 100 people isn’t decisive, but it’s also not insignificant.

Evidence provided by Nave’s associates indicates that also he tried – possibly successfully – to sign hundreds of other lawyers up as Habayit Hayehudi members. Shaked has not denied that she was aware of his efforts.

Following the membership campaign, Lahav asked Nave to approach Shaked to change regulations affecting his firm. The firm targets people in financial distress, and one of its marketing strategies involved videos of satisfied customers who had secured agreements on their debts. Strict regulations governing lawyer advertising did not allow this, however, on the argument that the ban helps maintain respect for the profession and prevents lawyers from appearing to be “ambulance chasers.”

The justice minister approves advertising regulations pertaining to lawyer advertising, subject to the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. According to a document obtained by TheMarker, Nave promised Lahav that he would press the issue with Shaked’s office. Shaked later met several times with Nave and Lahav, as well as law firm’s owner, Lirom Sende. Amitzur also attended at least one such meeting.

Following the meetings, the Israel Bar Association sent Shaked a draft of amended regulations, which was approved by the Knesset Constitution Committee in January 2018. The committee is chaired by Habayit Hayehudi member Nissan Slomiansky. Shaked signed off on the changes, which took affect in April 2018.

In response to the allegations, Shaked’s office said: “Shaked knew there was an effort to sign up members to Habayit Hayehudi, as well as other parties, and considers this positive. Regarding the Israel Bar Association rules, these are rules set by the bar association’s national council, and they require the approval of the justice minister and the Knesset Constitution Committee. They are not of the nature of secondary legislation set by the justice minister and in any event, this was not an initiative of the minister or her bureau, but rather of the bar.”

The Lerom Sende law firm said in response: “There is nothing improper about supporting a Knesset candidate whose agenda is in keeping with the [views] of the office. That said, despite empty boasting that may have taken place, no membership drive such as you presented, attributed to Lahav, reached Habayit Hayehudi. There was discussion of a membership drive. No membership drive. The allegations that the firm contacted Nave in a bid to change regulations are in the realm of science fiction.”

Amitzur stated: “I wasn’t involved in the membership drive. There was no such thing.” Nave refused to respond.