The Israeli State Prosecutor Is the Wrong Target

The people now launching the campaign against Moshe Lador forget he did not instigate Ehud Olmert's indictments.

Since the Olmert government appointed Moshe Lador to serve as state prosecutor in 2007, he has been at the center of many storms. Lador is combative and quick to attack. That is fine. But it would be better if he were to ensure that he has enough ammunition before launching each attack.

Lador has justifiably been the target of criticism, from both within the State Prosecutor's Office and outside it, regarding his handling of a number of cases. Ironically, in the Olmert cases he has become a victim - but this is not a situation of a hapless pedestrian being hit by a wayward vehicle, rather one where Lador has been deliberately and unjustifiably targeted.

Lador was not the instigator of the indictments against Olmert; the brunt of responsibility for them belongs to Menachem Mazuz, who served as attorney general until early 2010. Lador closed the file on the Bank Leumi-Olmert affair in 2008, though many jurists at the time believed that a conviction could be wrested in the case. (It was alleged that Olmert had tried to influence the sale of Leumi when the bank was privatized and he was finance minister in 2005. )

A widespread urban legend in Israel holds that the legal system effected a kind of coup when Olmert was indicted in 2009. That is apocryphal; Lador did not force Olmert to resign as prime minister. On the contrary, Lador notified the High Court of Justice that there was no legal cause compelling Olmert's disqualification from office. Olmert, whose political stock in the country eroded sharply, resigned a year before indictments were submitted against him; he continued to serve for five months after his resignation announcement (a period that including the Israel Defense Forces Cast Lead operation in Gaza in 2008-9 ); it was as a citizen that he faced the legal charges.

In the legal system, Lador never spearheaded attacks on Olmert. In the final analysis there was a consensus among police investigators, led by Yohanan Danino and Yoav Segalovich, by top prosecutors in the Jerusalem district and by Attorney General Mazuz.

As Lador put it this week, all believed that this was a case "worthy" of prosecution, and that not submitting indictments would be scandalous. Some advocated prosecuting Olmert on yet more severe charges.

Lador serves as the public face of the legal system; his work in this capacity was accentuated when Mazuz took his pension and disappeared from the scene, and his successor as attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, refrained from handling the Olmert cases. Weinstein, (now police chief ) Danino and head of the police investigations unit, Segalovich, wholly supported Lador in the Olmert case prosecutions.

Those who are now spearheading the campaign against Lador do not believe he will actually assent to their demand and leave his office on Saladin Street in East Jerusalem; the goal is to weaken the authority of the State Prosecutor's Office, and to set the stage for the appointment of his successor. Lador ends his six-year term in December 2013.

This process will reach a crescendo next summer. Weinstein will head a search committee for a new state prosecutor (ironically, in 2007, he himself vied with Lador and others, and lost ). Should national elections not precede the assembling of this search committee, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman will influence the panel to choose a nominee cast in a mold that he finds suitable. Neeman would prefer a private attorney who is not likely to make haste to investigate government ministers and prime ministers; he might also lean in favor of a nondescript district judge.

Nowadays, on a Tel Aviv street one can sometimes bump into an amiable cyclist, Eran Shendar, who was Lador's predecessor as state prosecutor and served for three years. Prior to Shendar, two friends held the post in successive terms: Dorit Beinisch and Edna Arbel. The latter's career trajectory could be a precedent: She returned to the State Prosecutor's Office after serving as a Tel Aviv district judge.

Arbel's former deputy, Nava Ben-Or - who worked on criminal matters in the State Prosecutor's Office - has been a district judge now for five years, and could conceivably follow Arbel's path and win an appointment as the state's top prosecutor. Or the search committee could turn to officials who are now employed in the State Prosecutor's Office (Shendar and Lador were such appointments ).

During the 2007 contest, Avichai Mendelblit, then military advocate general in the Israel Defense Forces, was also a candidate. However, Mendelblit stands little chance of winning any such appointment under the Netanyahu government because he is close to former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi and therefore tarnished in the eyes of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The list of candidates for the state prosecutor post will be influenced by the handling of the Olmert Holyland real estate affair, as well as the punishment meted out to the former prime minister on September 5 (for his conviction over breaching public trust ). The judges, who did not expect the media blitz this week, will likely exploit the occasion in September to elaborate upon the breach of trust conviction and the punishment's rationale.

With the issuance of the court decisions this week, the 45-day countdown for the submission of Supreme Court appeals against Olmert's acquittals or his conviction started. It is safe to bet that Lador will submit appeals. Should the judges accept any of the appeals and call on the Supreme Court to intervene and rule on lingering disputes, Lador will hardly remain idle.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador: Under pressure not to appeal.
Emil Salman