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Mendelblit Going Shamefully Easy on Israeli Politicians Who Broke the Law

Haaretz Editorial
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Haifa, last month.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Haifa, last month.Credit: Fadi Amun
Haaretz Editorial

It’s difficult to think of a more embarrassing end to the Dery affair – a case that has dragged on for six whole years and has come to exemplify the prosecution’s handling of everything related to cases involving public officials. It’s become apparent that Arye Dery, the Shas party leader, who is suspected of three tax violations in connection with the sale of property in Jerusalem and two counts of failure to report income, will be signing a plea bargain. Under the deal, he would admit to tax violations, pay a fine and possibly receive a suspended sentence. He wouldn’t get actual jail time.

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But all this pales in comparison to the real achievement of his lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur. He managed to get Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to give Dery a way to bypass a finding of moral turpitude in the case: Under the agreement, Dery would resign from the Knesset, thereby making it unnecessary to decide whether his actions constituted moral turpitude. Such a finding and an actual prison sentence of at least three months would, for a second time, have excluded Dery from holding public office for seven years. In other words, under Mendelblit’s auspices, Dery may have assured himself a ticket of readmission to the next round of Knesset elections.

It’s inconceivable that a maneuver like this should be permitted in order to bypass a finding of moral turpitude and empty the concept of its content. By doing so, Mendelblit is signaling to other public figures that moral turpitude is nothing more than an empty legal term rather than an ethical flaw that reflects upon a defendant. In this sense, Mendelblit is contributing to the destruction of public norms. Such a matter is of vastly greater seriousness in the case of Dery, who served time following conviction for numerous offenses while interior minister (including bribery, fraud and breach of trust) and several years later returned to politics.

Mendelblit is showing a consistently lenient attitude towards public figures who have gotten into trouble with the legal authorities. This was reflected in the clearest manner when he demonstrated his readiness to defend the right of a criminal defendant to form a government and to serve as its prime minister. Now, Mendelblit is being asked to ensure a serial offender’s ability to remain in the legislature. As on every other occasion in which a public figure signs a plea bargain, the public will be left to judge for itself. In the absence of a trial – at a time of political polarization and when distrust of the judicial system has grown – it can be assumed that the public will judge the outcome based on their political positions: Those who support Dery will view him as acquitted, while those oppose him will think he got off cheaply.

In any event, one cannot help but feel that everything we are now seeing is just the teaser for a similar plea bargain that may be reached with the leader of the Knesset opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, the public will be left without sufficiently clear answers regarding the most important legal proceeding in Israel in recent decades. If a deal is signed with Dery, the shame will be on Mendelblit.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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