Israeli Labor Minister Has Power to Appoint Judges, Despite Graft Suspicions

Haim Katz is under investigation for corruption in two cases; both are still unresolved

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Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz at the Knesset in 2016.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz at the Knesset in 2016.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Jerusalem Post/ Pool
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Despite suspicions of corruption, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz continues to sit on the panel that appoints judges to labor tribunals.

Sources in the justice establishment say that Katz shouldn’t be on the panel given the suspicions against him, yet none of his colleagues on the panel – which include judges – have raised the topic for discussion.

Katz became a member of the judicial appointments panel when in July 2016 the cabinet resolved to move the handling of employment from the Finance Ministry, which was headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time, to the Social Affairs Ministry.

Two months earlier, Katz had been questioned by the Israel Securities Authority on suspicions of using insider information for illicit gains. The suspicions later came to include taking bribes, and the case was given to the State Prosecutor’s Office in July 2016, where it still remains. (Unusually after investigating, the ISA does not publicize its recommendations on whether or not a minister should be charged.)

Another pending case touches on alleged corruption at the Israel Aerospace Industries, where Katz had been head of the powerful labor union before joining the cabinet. Irrespective of the securities case, the police said mid-last year that they were investigating Katz for allegedly coercing IAI employees to register with the Likud party. A former employee said at the time that the IAI workers were afraid of being fired if they didn’t toe the union line. The IAI case also involves Katz’s son Yair Katz, who police suspect of blackmail and acting as a middleman for bribes, among other things. The case remains under police investigation.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has not been consulted on Katz’s involvement in choosing judges while he is under of suspicion of corruption, nor has Mendelblit given an unsolicited opinion on the matter.

Judges for labor tribunals are chosen by the panel, but their appointment is only finalized with after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Katz, as the labor and social affairs minister, sign off on it. Katz also has the power to appoint presidents and select representatives of employees and employers to local and national labor courts.

Meanwhile, the selection of judges continues. This October, Michael Spitzer was named to the national labor tribunal, along with two judges to local tribunals. In September, Katz named Judge Samuel J. Tenenboim as president of the Be’er Sheva labor tribunal and Meron Schwartz as president of the Nazareth labor court.

Katz’s office commented on Monday that there are no criminal suspicions under investigation against Katz in respect to the labor tribunals.

“As a member of the panel that appoints judges, Katz has created a revolution, putting an end to cronyism until now, representatives of the public in labor courts [effectively] represented the employers,” his office said.

Asked whether it is proper in the eyes of the court that a minister under investigation for alleged criminal activity has the power to appoint and promote judges, the justice establishment laconically commented that the “appointments are carried out in keeping with government resolutions.”

“The panel is run according to the law and not by personal whim,” stated the office of Shaked, who co-chairs the judicial appointments panel. “By virtue of his office, the minister of labor and social affairs, Haim Katz, is a member of the panel appointing judges to the labor tribunals, and in the State of Israel, the rule that a person is innocent until proven guilty still applies. The same applies to public servants.”

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