Mazuz's Big Shoes

Had Mazuz not been forged of steel, both he and the entire law enforcement system would have collapsed.

Even on the final day of Menachem Mazuz's tempestuous term as attorney general, Israeli citizens are still unaware of the debt they owe him. For the last six years, as efforts were made to break the neck of the rule of law in Israel, Mazuz stood guard at the gate. For six years in which governmental corruption threatened to overwhelm Israel, Mazuz stood in the breach. For six years during which Israel became embroiled in a deep normative crisis, Mazuz was the keeper of the seal of integrity, decency, relevance and purity. Even when he erred, he did so with the best of intentions. Even when he displayed excessive stubbornness, he did so for the right reasons, for the sake of the right values.

Since Aharon Barak, no other attorney general has made a greater contribution to Israeli democracy than Mazuz.

Other jurists have been put to the test in the past. The most noteworthy were Yitzhak Zamir, who was attacked by the political leaders of his day for insisting that senior Shin Bet security service officials be indicted over the killing of two captured terrorists and the subsequent cover-up, and Dorit Beinisch, who was assailed by Shas for deciding to indict Aryeh Deri.

But no previous attorney general ever faced what Mazuz did. The assault this time was sweeping and unbridled. The battle was not over a single issue, but system-wide. The forces attacking the rule of law did not come from the margins of society, but from its true centers of power. Had Mazuz not been forged of steel, both he and the entire law enforcement system would have collapsed. Israel would have turned into a banana republic with no law, no judges, no shame and no norms.

Mazuz's achievement is unprecedented. During his term, more than 30 public figures were indicted. Of these cases, 25 ended in convictions - and none has yet ended in acquittal. During his predecessors' terms, reverberating acquittals undermined confidence in the system. But under Mazuz, there were virtually no failures - because his approach was businesslike, not persecutory, and he therefore had no hesitation about closing many cases. Mazuz boldly ran both the war on governmental corruption and the war on organized crime from the massive desk in his office - the desk that will soon be manned by the new attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein.

At first glance, Weinstein's appointment is puzzling. The veteran defense attorney is an expert in criminal law only. Unlike Mazuz, he has no understanding whatsoever of administrative or civil law. And even in the criminal sphere, Weinstein has a handicap: Some of the protagonists of the worst corruption scandals have some sort of tie to him. Thus in his field of expertise, he will sometimes be barred from making decisions, and in the fields where he can operate freely, he will not always have the expertise.

Moreover, Weinstein is not the late Amnon Goldenberg or Dori Klagsbald. He is not one of those top lawyers whose professional prestige was unassailable. Weinstein is liked, respected, well-connected and gets good press. But he is not the outstanding jurist dreamed of by those who preached in favor of finally appointing a first-class private-sector lawyer as attorney general.

Yet precisely because of these weaknesses, Weinstein may surprise us. Just as the outgoing attorney general failed to satisfy the expectations of the minister who appointed him, the same could happen with the new attorney general. Just as the outgoing attorney general acted without fear or prejudice, so can the incoming attorney general. It often happens that the job makes the man. It forces the holder of the office to grow into it. Mazuz's shoes are big ones, but there is no reason why Weinstein could not step into them, fill them and take them another step forward.

But in order for Weinstein to leave no less of a mark than his predecessor, he must read the map. He must understand that yesterday's criminal attack on the Supreme Court president was no chance occurrence. The shoes were thrown by a nobody, but the real assailant was former justice minister Daniel Friedmann. The degree to which Friedmann delegitimized the entire justice system is what let the evil genie out of the bottle.

That is why both the Supreme Court in Jerusalem's Givat Ram neighborhood and the Justice Ministry on the capital's Salah a-Din Street are still under siege.

Therefore, the incoming attorney general's test will be his ability to defend the system, to preserve its independence and guard its integrity. Mazuz passed this test. Now it is Weinstein's turn.