The Mazuz Turnaround

The attorney general still has five months to go before his term ends, but this week he assured his place in history.

This was Menachem Mazuz' week. The attorney general still has five months to go before his term ends, but this week he assured his place in history.

Mazuz was the first Israeli chief prosecutor to indict both a former president and a prime minister. In doing so, he outdid even the mythological Aharon Barak of the 1970s. Barak took courageous, firm action against the state leaders, but Mazuz went further. Mazuz sent Omri Sharon, Tzachi Hanegbi, Haim Ramon, Abraham Hirchson, Shlomo Benizri, Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katsav to court. Never has Israel had an attorney general subordinate the ruling power to the law as Mazuz has done.

Mazuz worked under difficult conditions. In the middle of the current decade, Israel's corruption process was speeding toward the point of no return. The pressure the parties' central committees exerted on ministers had become a dangerous kind of political terror. Local governments developed warped norms. At the same time, certain elites developed a tendency to resist the rule of law. Many grew tired of Israel's constitutional democracy and the restrictions it imposed on the major power hubs.

So when the attorney general rolled up his sleeves and started to clean out the stables, powerful agents tried to trip him up. For years Mazuz worked in a hostile political and media environment.

Mazuz had to deal with another troublesome problem as well. Michael Ben Yair, Elyakim Rubinstein and Edna Arbel left him a problematic heritage. The scandalous indictments they filed against Yaakov Neeman, Rafael Eitan and Avigdor Kahalani badly damaged the state prosecution's reputation. A series of resounding acquittals of public figures gave the impression that the prosecution's finger was light on the trigger and its actions may sometimes be tainted by political persecution.

The Israeli public failed to realize that Mazuz was not Arbel. Despite being a conservative, meticulous, honest jurist, he was constantly attacked for the grave mistakes made by the law enforcement agencies of the '90s. Thus Mazuz waged a war for integrity in splendid isolation. The corruption clique fought him furiously, while the rule-of-law clique treated him with suspicion. With no clique or public backing, the attorney general had to make his way alone.

Five years and seven months later, the results speak for themselves. Mazuz pressed charges against some 15 ministers, directors-general, rabbis and judges. So far eight of them have been convicted and not one has been acquitted. The attorney general who was tarred and feathered for closing the Greek island affair, probed, charged and led to the conviction of more public figures than any one of his predecessors.

However, Mazuz's great achievement is not merely breaking the record in dealing with government corruption, but in his being color blind. He did not distinguish between left and right, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi.

Prior to the Mazuz era, the statistics were troubling - the overwhelming majority of convicted public figures were religious, Mizrahi, Arab or right wing. Coincidence? Perhaps. But during Mazuz's term this trend faded away. The law enforcement agencies stopped focusing on various outsiders and dared to touch the very core of government hegemony. Even judges were no longer immune.

Thanks to Mazuz it is clear to all today that the law does not discriminate between different communities.

Mazuz is no angel. He made mistakes in both the Katsav and Ramon affairs. But the exaggerated preoccupation with his mistakes overshadowed the dramatic turnaround he created. At the end of the day, Mazuz did clean the stables out. He deterred the agents of corruption and restored the rule of law to its power and integrity. Alongside Aharon Barak, Mazuz will be remembered as one of Israel's most important attorneys general.