Mazuz Is Whining

Former attorney general Aharon Barak did not consider it necessary to explain his decisions and apologize for them. On the contrary: He spoke decisively and radiated indisputable credibility and professional authority.

When Aharon Barak was attorney general, he made a series of decisions that were directly relevant to the political futures of public figures: He decided to indict Asher Yadlin, who was a candidate for the post of Bank of Israel governor; he ordered the police to initiate an investigation against then housing minister Avraham Ofer; and he prosecuted Leah Rabin, wife of the prime minister. These were sensational decisions that determined the fates of those involved. But Barak did not consider it necessary to explain his decisions and apologize for them. On the contrary: He spoke decisively and radiated indisputable credibility and professional authority.

In contrast, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz thought it necessary to offer excuses for the shifts in his position during the investigation of the complaints against former president Moshe Katsav. He did not just offer excuses; he whined. In the weekend papers, his message was essentially as follows: He feels unappreciated, because he is the one who exposed Katsav and his behavior, whereas reporters and politicians who were aware of his misdeeds kept quiet; only his decision turned Katsav's complaint (against A., a former employee of the President's Residence) into an investigation against the president, which led to a breach in the wall of silence that surrounded Katsav's actions; if Mazuz had not made this decision, Katsav would have served out his term to the end, and might even have returned to public life.

The picture one gets from Mazuz's statements strengthens the concern that he is not made of the right stuff for his position. Mazuz is known for his honesty, his modesty, his good manners and his professionalism, but there is something flawed in the way he perceives his job. More often than not, it seems that he is easily spooked. This was the impression he gave at the start of his tenure, in his handling of the Greek island case, and this is also the impression one gets from the way he is behaving now, with regard to the Katsav investigation.

In explaining his decision to close the case against Ariel and Gilad Sharon in the Greek island affair, Mazuz sounded more like a defense attorney representing the suspects than the person assigned to lead the investigation. In the Katsav case, he acted as if he were unsure of himself and gave excessive respect to the post held by the suspect. It is hard to accept a situation in which the country's top prosecutor believes he deserves to be thanked for having managed to extract a modest indictment, entailing an exceptionally lenient plea bargain, in the Katsav case.

It is hard not to be concerned over the extent of the attorney general's assertiveness and confidence in his professional abilities when he perceives himself as the one who dared to blow the whistle while all the other players, and the fans in the bleachers, kept silent. A chief prosecutor is supposed to have the temperament of a bulldog who yearns to uproot evil, not that of a poodle who yearns to be petted because he pointed out a dark corner.

One can understand Mazuz's wish to improve his image, which suffered from the Supreme Court's harsh criticism of the way he handled the Katsav case. What is troubling is the defense strategy he adopted in order to do so: painting himself as the victim of a thankless public, a Robin Hood who is out there on his own with insufficient means to uphold the law, a person who deserves the thanks of the women on whose behalf he indicted a serial sexual harasser who is also a powerful public figure.

This self-image is disappointing. One would expect the country's top law enforcement official to be filled with fighting spirit, personal assertiveness, a great appetite for bringing those who violated the law to justice and sufficient expertise to counter experienced defense attorneys. The attorney general - not the media or the politicians - is the one with the greatest ability and the best tools to expose and prove offenses of the sort attributed to Moshe Katsav. If he uses these efficiently (and in this case, that question remains open), he is doing what he is supposed to do and does not deserve a medal. Instead of wrapping himself in self-pity, Mazuz needs to muster the requisite courage to do his job as it should be done.