The Victory Lap of Israel's Shoddy State Prosecutor

Shai Nitzan is being lenient regarding the separate corruption allegations against Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at Bar-Ilan University, December 25, 2014.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at Bar-Ilan University, December 25, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has given a victory interview to Yedioth Ahronoth after obtaining a conviction of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for taking bribes in the “cash envelopes” affair. He was proud of the plea bargain with Olmert’s former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, that produced the tapes that led to the conviction.

From the way Nitzan described it, he was an Italian investigating judge who risked his life fighting the mafia, rather than someone making the most natural decision in the world. Would any reasonable prosecutor have thrown those tapes in the garbage?

And who exactly was the heroic prosecutor confronting? A former public official, already convicted and crushed. What bravery. Somehow the names of former senior law enforcement titans, Moshe Lador and Menachem Mazuz, weren’t mentioned in the interview. They conducted criminal prosecutions of a ruling prime minister when Yedioth didn’t yet conduct fawning interviews with someone who prides himself on convicting Olmert.

Nitzan told Yedioth: “If only you knew how many times I’ve refused to defend the state in suits at the High Court.” I wish I knew which cases he meant.

I do know which cases he got involved in. He defended the sex-crime plea deal with former President Moshe Katsav; he helped tarnish the plaintiffs’ reputations in that case. He was also the key supporter of the attorney general’s decision to close the corruption case against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

All this may be ancient history, but it seems Nitzan hasn’t changed his ways in his new role. He was involved in the scandalous handling of the Pinto affair in which the state postponed a plea bargain with a rabbi charged with trying to bribe a senior police officer. He also backed the strange handling of the Bibi Tours affair in which Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly misappropriated travel funds.

Worst of all, he was the impresario of one of Israel’s ugliest legal scandals: the case involving allegations by the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s official residence, Meni Naftali.

In his interview, Nitzan strove to explain why state prosecutors believed that the timing of the election was a reason to postpone the case. But in the end he couldn’t explain why he preferred to take the prime minister’s side and postpone the case due to the election, rather than proceed because of the election.

And his support for an investigation into Naftali is an almost unpardonable sin. In a labor-court dispute, a lawyer for the state asked the Netanyahu family’s nemesis whether he failed one of his classes in school, and whether he shot up Palestinians’ water tanks during the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield.

The judge halted this line of inquiry, but Nitzan told Yedioth he had no complaints against the offending lawyer. I guess she’ll be promoted.

A few months before the election, Nitzan and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein courageously backed the launching of a corruption investigation into Yisrael Beiteinu. For that alone Nitzan and Weinstein deserved to be pardoned for all their other missteps, but then suddenly the detentions and questioning stopped. Someone put a hold on the entire investigation.

The police and prosecutor’s office strongly deny that this was linked to the election, but in off-the-record comments they admit that parts of the investigation were postponed until after the vote. Why? Lieberman, as is well known, had harsh words about the timing of the police and prosecutor’s actions.

The counterclaim seemed powerful: The investigation had developed in such a way that everything had to be exposed at that time. And then there were leaks, making it hard to claim that a delay wouldn’t impede the investigation and the chance to find the truth.

In any case, in his interview, Nitzan hinted that his office would demand prison time in the “cash envelopes” case. I’m not saying Olmert is upright, but it seems he’s being kicked when he’s down.

Raviv Drucker is a reporter for Channel 10 television.

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