Israel Archives Reveal Begin Demanded Appointment of Arab Judge

Classified documents released in light of 20th anniversary of the former prime minister's death shows a different side to the right-wing leader.

Israel’s State Archives released a number of previously classified documents on Sunday in light of the 20th anniversary of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s death.

Among the documents is a letter from 1971 in which Begin personally requests the Supreme Court pardon Yehoshua Ben-Zion for his involvement in large-scale embezzlement scandal that led to the collapse of the Israel-British Bank and at the time was already serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Begin - Ap - 07.07.2011

The pardoning process was harshly criticized by the Israeli public. “The president was willing to pardon Mr. Ben-Zion, or at least to alleviate his sentence if I were to give my request, according to the procedure. After two distinguished doctors made me aware of the fact that there is a real danger to his life, my conscience would not allow me to avoid giving the recommendation, knowing full well that the man could end his life between prison walls,” wrote Begin. President Ephraim Katzir ended up pardoning Ben-Zion in the wake of Begin’s recommendation. Although despite Begin’s concern for his life, Ben-Zion died in 2004, many years after his release.

In the second document released by the archive, it was revealed that Begin supported the appointment of an Arab judge to Israel’s Supreme Court. In a letter written in 1977, along with his Adviser on Arab Affairs Moshe Sharon, Begin wrote that “it has been my opinion for many years that we must appoint an Arab as a judge in the Supreme Court. I shall reiterate this position at every opportunity.”

A third document reveals minutes from a 1979 government meeting, during which Begin expresses his unwavering support for the rule of law. The meeting was dedicated to discussing the decision of the attorney general to prosecute government workers who breached a court order and began building a road over Bedouin lands in the Negev Desert.

“The attorney general determined specific procedures, and the investigation will take place in a disciplinary tribunal. Period. And there isn’t an official in the country who can demand that the attorney general cancel his decision and seek a different decision,” said Begin.

Begin requested to end the meeting: “The government approves the attorney general’s report.” Minister Moshe Nissim responded, saying that “the government does not approve, it has heard. “You are right,” Begin responded, “the government has heard the attorney general’s report – we will not doll out compliments, as he does not need any. The Supreme Court has already given him compliments, and the government should not add any more.”

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