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A Clerk’s Tale

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Deputy Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Dina Zilber.
Deputy Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Dina Zilber.Credit: Emil Salman

There’s something quite funny about casting Deputy Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Dina Zilber as the current symbol of the fiery oppositional left. Zilber will be remembered as one of the few who stood up against the populist, reckless right and its evil laws.

Funny, in light of her background in the Betar Zionist Revisionist youth movement and her friendships with Gideon Saar and Zvi Hauser, but chiefly her loyal career in public service. Her duties have included defending the state’s positions — including clearly anti-left positions, such as those regarding the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

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Who remembers today that in 2012, when the cabinet confirmed her appointment as deputy to then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the far right declared war against the appointment of Shai Nitzan — today the state prosecutor — as deputy attorney general for special assignments.

But Zilber made a small mistake. She didn’t understand the zeitgeist and remained an old-school official, the kind that writes relevant legal opinions and expresses opposition to government distortions like the funding methods of the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization. She misread reality and failed to see that she was being exploited. She didn’t see the youth-movement politics of Ayelet Shaked, who has no authority to demand Zilber’s dismissal, as she did in her letter to the attorney general, and of Naftali Bennett, who threatened that the next time Zilber appears in the Knesset he and his friends will simply leave the room.

Her persecution, including emptying her position of authority and attempts to make her disappear, didn’t begin this week with Shaked’s violent letter. She became the target of exposes in right-wing newspapers and recently even won a place of honor in a hate post that marks “enemies from within” — the one famously shared by journalist Caroline Glick.

Her situation — who is crazy enough to get into trouble with the settlers? — worsened as a result of her boss’s consistent failure to defend her. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit chipped away at Zilber’s authority, in effect giving legitimacy to her demonization. About a year ago I asked the Justice Ministry for permission to interview Zilber for Haaretz, and was refused. That, despite the publication in Makor Rishon shortly before of an interview with Deputy Attorney General for Constitutional Affairs Ran Nizri, titled “No celebrity discount for Netanyahu.” In September, Makor Rishon published an interview with Deputy Attorney General for International Law Roy Schondorf, describing his department as an “iron dome” against activists in the boycott, divest and sanctions movement. But Zilber was the focus of silencing attempts.

Zilber was right to take a principled stand against the spirit of the laws that carry out a targeted assassination on democracy, with criticism that went beyond a close reading of each provision. Nevertheless, there are grounds to suggest that were it not for the ugly persecution she has faced for the past few years, she would not have addressed the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee as she did Tuesday.

>> Read more: Legal Loyalty | Editorial 

Zilber, perhaps even unconsciously, simply described to the committee the narrative of her life: how she was turned from a compliant, statesmanlike public official into a traitor.

Some Justice Ministry officials are wondering why she doesn’t save her honor and leave public service in view of what’s being done to her. In fact, Zilber must stay on, and she must receive more vocal, more active support from her colleagues.

This is not only about the middle-level bureaucrats, who today are trained like muzzled puppies and need opinionated models who don’t grovel to bullying politicians. This is mainly about the traitor’s uniform that awaits other senior officials, including those who are not backing Zilber today, should they decide to do something, as part of their job, their professional integrity and their conscience, that is not in keeping with their loyalty to those in power. For example, to issue an indictment against the prime minister.

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