Editorial

Israel's Finance Minister Must Be Investigated

Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, January 12, 2020
AFP

Ever since former Israel Bar Association President Efraim Nave was arrested, an effort has been underway to curb the criminal investigation into suspected bribery aimed at influencing appointments by the Judicial Appointments Committee. The public was told that because Nave’s privacy was severely violated when his cellphone was illegally hacked, the search warrants for his phones would be restricted to just a few issues.

Under cover of this pretext, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked hasn’t been required to answer questions about Nave’s efforts to get bar association members to join Habayit Hayehudi, her party at the time, so they could support her in the party’s primary. Attorneys working at Lirom Sende’s law firm, whose owner is close to Nave, were heavily pressured to join the party. And this happened even as Shaked was signing regulations drafted at the behest of Sende’s firm.

Another beneficiary of the decision to circumscribe the case was Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron, who has heard four cases argued by the man who lobbied for his appointment – attorney Asher Axelrod, a crony of Nave’s. And Nave himself has escaped other potential investigations about additional cronies whom he pushed into judgeships.

But the whole picture changed once it emerged Monday that Judge Eti Craif – who is slated to be charged, pending a hearing, with giving Nave sexual favors as a bribe – was also in close contact with another member of the Judicial Appointments Committee, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. This issue has only been partially investigated, and not the way it should be.

Now it’s impossible to keep claiming that Nave’s privacy is what halted the case. The seemingly incriminating correspondence between Craif and Kahlon and the suspicious location data was all found on Craif’s phone, which wasn’t hacked illegally. Craif’s deleting of her texts to and from Kahlon, as reported by Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz a month ago, augments the suspicion that their relationship, which hasn’t been properly investigated, was criminal.

The discomfort over how the police and prosecution handled this case increases once you discover that Craif was actually questioned on suspicion of granting sexual bribes to Kahlon, yet Kahlon, who apparently made false statements to the police (including about the number of meetings he had with Craif), wasn’t defined as a suspect. Important witnesses in the case like naval officer Yuval Tzur or Minister Yoav Gallant – whom Craif says were involved in making contact between her and Kahlon – weren’t even asked to give statements to the police. This shows that nobody ever intended to seriously investigate the Kahlon-Craif relationship.

Former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is the person who oversaw this investigation, after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recused himself from the case due to his friendship with Nave. But Nitzan didn’t veer from Mendelblit’s tradition of vacillation and hesitation over any investigation of a senior politician. Maybe his vacillation stemmed in part from fears that what goes on behind the scenes at the Judicial Appointments Committee would be fully revealed. But this new information, which raises suspicions of criminal behavior by Kahlon, makes it necessary to investigate the minister as a suspect.

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