Justice Tal and Common Sense

The most recent State Comptroller's Report points to a series of allocations handed out by the Bequests Committee headed by Justice Tal to organizations close to him, in a conflict of interest.

Yesterday the attorney general decided not to open an investigation against former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel regarding his retirement benefits. This was in contrast to the investigation begun against former Supreme Court Justice Zvi Tal in the affair of allocations made from the State Bequests Committee, which he headed. It is not at all clear how long the investigation against Tal will continue, and whether he will stand trial for the borderline offenses of which he is suspected. It is very doubtful whether the decision of the State Prosecutor to treat him with meticulous correctness serves any public interest. It certainly doesn't show common sense.

At the end of the 1980s, Attorney General Yosef Harish decided not to put then-mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, on trial for his generous distribution of gifts from the bank account known as the "Teddy Fund." The decision was especially blatant because senior members of the municipal workers' committee were put on trial for accepting bribes from the fund. It is reasonable to assume that Harish's ostensibly discriminatory decision was influenced by Kollek's impressive contribution to the State of Israel, his age (which was already then quite advanced), and the fact that the crime was not meant to line his own pockets, nor did it contain any element of criminal intent.

Kollek is not the only example of a case in which it is better not to prosecute to the full extent of the law, and in which there should be consideration of a person's advanced age and the fact that he devoted his life to the public, when at issue is a borderline offense of limited severity. We can reasonably assume that in similar circumstances, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Israel Prize laureate, a former Chief Rabbi and a party leader, will never stand trial for his curses. Although in the case of Rabbi Yosef, there is also of course the fear of disturbing the public order.

The most recent State Comptroller's Report points to a series of allocations handed out by the Bequests Committee headed by Justice Tal to organizations close to him, in a conflict of interest. For example, the justice's wife is a member of Emunah, the women's organization of the National Religious Party. In 1988, the organization requested NIS 2 million from the committee, which decided instead to grant it NIS 4 million. The justice himself served as the head of the council of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. The committee increased the allocation to the authority eightfold that year.

Tal's case seems much simpler than those of Kollek and of Rabbi Yosef. The crime is an elusive and hard-to-define matter of violation of trust. If someone were to seriously try to prosecute violations of this kind, many senior officials in the Religious Affairs Ministry would end their careers in a courtroom.

It is hard to believe that Tal had criminal intent or was aware of the fact that a crime was being committed. There are such simple ways in which to transfer money to associates without the person doing so being accused of anything. It is hard not to interpret his unconcealed activity as anything but a sign of lack of awareness. Nor did Tal put any money into his own pocket, as did former central bank governor Frenkel.

Tal is no longer serving in his position, as was Mayor Kollek. He also does not curse and insult incessantly, as does Rabbi Yosef. He left his position in shame, and apparently will never distribute the allocations again. It is doubtful whether he will be appointed to stand at the head of a body whose activity is connected to proper government. If Tal were a government official, we can reasonably assume that he would have undergone a disciplinary trial for these offenses. Retirement from public service could have released him from that, too.

The name of every public figure involved in misdemeanors becomes stained. But politicians recover remarkably well from such affairs. For example, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi went on to become the environment minister. The same is not true of a judge. Because of his status (and because of the opportunity given to many to find fault with the Supreme Court), the presumed crimes that he committed have been presented as corruption, rather than one of the most common (negative) norms in Israeli public administration. Therefore, it is not the principle of equality that is being invoked here, and Tal is being discriminated against.

In Israel today, any suspect must stand not the "Buzaglo test" [to see how he would be treated were he an ordinary citizen], but rather the Deri test. Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri not only destroyed almost every norm of proper administration, but no less seriously, distorted the public criteria for what is moral and immoral, for guilt and lack of guilt, for justice and injustice, for the correct and the incorrect.

What then are the differences between this case and those of Deri, the tzadik [righteous man] of Ma'asiyahu prison? To be honest, almost every detail is different, and the very comparison is an insult to the former justice. The tzadik took bribes. The judge is not even suspected of doing anything for his own benefit. In the case of the tzadik, a corrupt lifestyle characterized his political career from its beginning until the affair was exposed. In the case of the judge, there was a slip-up at the end of an illustrious career. And lastly and no less important, Deri was just starting out. Tal is in any case not expected to receive a severe punishment, nor does another career await him. The public has no interest in the continuation of his investigation, and common sense dictates ending it.