Indicted Mayors Must Step Aside

Stepping down from public office upon indictment should be a mandatory.

Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar did not think that the fact he had been indicted on serious charges required him to leave office. Nor did he think he needed to withdraw his candidacy for another term as mayor just because the prosecution had decided to accuse him, among other things, of bribery. The fact that he had once been a top officer in the Israel Police had not honed his sense of moral integrity or obeyance of the law.

What changed Bar's mind was the message sent to him Sunday by the justices of the High Court. Although he had not been forced to resign, the seven justices noted that "from a public perspective, there is a great difficulty in the respondent [Bar] continuing to serve as mayor of Ramat Gan, after a serious indictment was filed against him in which it is claimed he committed offenses connected to the execution of his duties."

Bar went into the courtroom as a candidate and left as an ex-candidate. The justices refrained from issuing a ruling on the petition, but preferred to speak in "public" terms, allowing the petition to "run its course." We can understand this maneuver of the High Court - to dismiss a mayor accused of criminal offenses, the matter must be brought before the relevant city council - but that is not enough.

Although mayors have a different status to ministers and deputy ministers, the "Deri-Pinhasi rule" should also apply here: people in positions that depend on the trust of the public cannot continue at their post if they are indicted.

The fact that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein dramatically sided with the petitioners against Bar shows that he, too, is uncomfortable with the current situation - at least when it comes to offenses that went on for many years and involved a suspect's exploitation of public office. This position, which will link indictment to stepping down from public office, needs to be enshrined in a binding rule. That is precisely the task of the legislature.

A few months shy of municipal elections, Bar is only one of half a dozen mayors at some phase of criminal proceedings. The fact a bill is pending - aiming to resolve the matter of heads of local authorities continuing in office while accused of criminal offenses - does not make the High Court decision unnecessary in the Bar affair. The message the justices conveyed will be a warning sign to all the other mayors. They must drop out of the next race as long as they are under indictment.

Ofer Vaknin