Opinion

No Need to Crucify the Judge in Israel's Telecoms-giant Case

Horrified by multiple corruption stories, the public was all too quick to burn Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz at the stake - without first finding out whether their anger was justified

Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz. June 18, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

We can understand how it happened. People’s nerves are on edge. The new revelations about the prime minister and his associates are shocking the public, and then it turns out that a senior judge who was a candidate to become attorney general apparently was offered a bribe by an associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but didn’t report it to the authorities. Later it was learned that she said something to her friend the Supreme Court justice, who also chose to remain silent.

And suddenly we learn that the director of the Channel 10 news department also heard the story, but the public wasn’t informed. It also turns out that Avichai Mendelblit, who in the end was appointed attorney general, asked to meet with journalist Dan Margalit so that he wouldn’t oppose his appointment – and the public is anxiously wondering what other shocking details will later be revealed to it.

Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised at the furor caused by the news that a judge, while deciding on the extension of remands of defendants in Case 4000 (Bezeq), exchanged joking text messages with the Israel Securities Authority investigator in the case. That’s all the public needs now, after being rattled by what looks like a collapse of all the country’s systems of control. Within two hours Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz was sacrificed on the fire of the general self-righteousness now burning in the hearts of all those involved in the Netanyahu affairs.

Apparently the most important thing was to prove to the fans of Culture Minister Miri Regev that when push comes to shove, the media and the judicial system, or at least parts of them, know how to condemn and to burn at the stake even those who are not the prime minister or his emissaries. Especially if these unfortunates had the bad luck to be on the edges of the circle of investigations of the Netanyahu cases.

Later it turned out that the story was exaggerated. The text messages between the investigator and the judge were for the purpose of making technical arrangements for the release of some of the detainees, and only a society in hysteria attacks public servants that way, without first finding out what happened. The lunacy of the incessant accusations by the prime minister and his emissaries against all the powers of sanity and order in society, the fear of revenge by Netanyahu’s admirers and the anxiety about what he and his associates may be capable of – these are so strong that the need to prove that public criticism is not focused only on him goes beyond any logic. It’s no wonder that the incident was exploited in the end mainly by Likud members to assail the investigations against Netanyahu.

Channel 10 news failed this time, and also misled the public, when they didn’t properly check their reports. The fervor to provide an exciting headline, which embroiled even the judicial system itself, overcame common sense and professional integrity here. But the Israeli public is horrified these days at the abundance of stories of corruption, in which the suspects are those who claim to lead them, with the future expected to be even worse. It is therefore important that the judicial institutions and the media be especially meticulous about decency and sanity. Since there was no plot that was supposedly cooked up behind the backs of the detainees, the representatives of the judicial system must not be dragged now into a harsh verdict against the judge, only to prove that they are objective and their hands are clean.

Along with taking care to avoid hysteria and false reports, the public has a right to know what really is happening and has happened in the investigations of the prime minister. What, for example, is Netanyahu’s connection to the story of the submarines, and how exactly did Mendelblit attain the position of attorney general?