Opinion

What About Netanyahu's Other Lawyer?

Isaac Molho is required to hand over the list of his clients only to the attorney general, who keeps it in a safe so that no one will know and try to cross-reference the interests.

Isaac Molho
Tess Scheflan

There has probably never been a person in the history of this country in such a desirable position as Isaac Molho. An attorney with a flourishing private practice, in his free time he goes on the most sensitive diplomatic errands and sits in the most dramatic decision-making forums. He enjoys almost complete silence from the media and the attorney general’s umbrella of legitimacy.

During the Gaza war, Molho sat in on some of the cabinet meetings and he is largely in charge of economic ties with the Palestinians. Any economic figure of any standing in the Palestinian Authority knows that a little attention from Molho can help him in his dealings. On Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s instructions, Molho undertakes sensitive missions to countries with which Israel has no diplomatic ties. The Mossad supplies him with logistical backing, security and transport.

What is the nature of his business, who are his clients, why did he push, on at least one occasion, to make arms deals with countries on the Defense Ministry’s no-deals list? That’s a secret. Molho is required to hand over the list of his clients only to the attorney general, who keeps it in a safe so that no one will know and try to cross-reference the interests. Why is it not transparent? Because in the balance between the values of public confidence and transparency and that of Molho’s ability to function discretely as a private attorney, the state preferred, pressured by the prime minister, the interests of Molho and his firm.

In the submarines affair, Molho is in a strange, questionable position. Netanyahu claims he did not know that his attorney, David Shimron, was representing businessman Miki Ganor, who was in turn representing the German shipyard. I find it difficult to believe, but did Molho not know either? After all, Ganor is a major client of the Shimron-Molho firm.

If he did know, a pressing question comes up. Molho took part in diplomatic contacts with senior German representatives. For example, in 2014 he met the German foreign minister together with then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Did the matter of the submarines come up in the various talks he held with the Germans? Was the subject of the international tender (which was canceled) to buy vessels to protect Israel’s natural gas platforms discussed? If so, what did Molho do? Did he go outside? Keep mum? Molho’s not talking and the attorney general protects him. How are we to know?

The father of this arrangement, unfortunately, is former Attorney General Menahem Mazuz. “Unfortunately” because Mazuz was the best attorney general since Aharon Barak. In this matter, though, he made a major mistake. Successive prime ministers liked to make use of an associate from the outside, one who enjoyed the adrenaline of government service and proximity to the top without having to shoulder the full burden of government service, including its relatively modest salary. Shimon Peres used attorney Ram Caspi, Yitzhak Rabin had Yossi Ginossar.

Their successors ran into Elyakim Rubinstein, who fought the phenomenon vigorously. Rubinstein forced Gilad Sher into Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s bureau, and conditioned Omri Sharon’s missions to Yasser Arafat on obtaining an opinion from security officials that such missions were a “matter of life and death.” He made Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s life miserable for using businessman Arie Genger as a back channel to the White House.

Unfortunately, Mazuz loosened the belt, making Molho’s warped arrangement possible. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein then broke down all the barriers. When Livni asked Weinstein how it was that Molho is allowed to sit in on cabinet meetings, Weinstein referred to Mazuz, of course.

It is hard to know where the examination of the submarine affair will lead. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit does not come across as having a fighting spirit, to put it mildly. But in one matter, Mendelblit does not need a “police examination” at all. Everyone understands that Molho’s arrangement is utterly out of line and needs to end.