The Trial of Elyakim Rubinstein

An attorney general who hides such an inquiry from the public on the eve of elections is betraying his duty to the state, which is not subservient to the prime minister.

Elyakim Rubinstein introduced two innovations to public administration - the public report, and the refusal to take a polygraph test. In his decisions to close investigations against public officials, he invented the publication of a report card with a grade for behavior - his grounds were the public's right to know.

When he was asked to take a lie detector exam, before his appointment as attorney general, he refused on the grounds of human dignity and liberty, to the point that the Supreme Court said he was "setting private norms of behavior for himself."

But in his current incarnation, Rubinstein is shrugging off both the public's right to know and human dignity. The best example of this is the Cyril Kern case. There are matters that should be brought to the attention of the public when it is considering who to elect to the highest position in the land.

This affair, dealing with alleged violations of the law by Ariel Sharon in the previous elections, was exactly such a case. An attorney general who hides such an inquiry from the public on the eve of elections is betraying his duty to the state, which is not subservient to the prime minister. It is a difference that in not dissimilar circumstances Ami Ayalon, as chief of the Shin Bet, knew very well.

Rubinstein wanted to hide from the voters a significant fact connected to a candidate for prime minister. Unlike the suspected financiers of Sharon's first round, who were a step ahead of the investigators overseas, the voters knew nothing. According to the charge sheet, which includes a confession, attorney Liora Glatt-Berkovich did what the attorney general didn't do.

Glatt-Berkovich, from the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office, handed over information to the media - Haaretz's Baruch Kra. The public benefited, and in a miraculous way, through the diversion of attention from the substance to the leak, so did Sharon.

Discipline in the public service was slightly damaged, like a pedestrian being scratched by an ambulance speeding by as it carries a pregnant woman (even a Palestinian one) to hospital. Not formally correct behavior - but it's not terrible.

What is terrible is what happened to the investigation of the leak and became public knowledge with Rubinstein's decision to put Glatt-Berkovich on trial - the ruthless rush to expose the methods and sources of reporters in a way that ensures near certain damage to freedom of the press.

First of all, from the case material presented in court, someone dug a mass grave for the entire prosecution. Edna Arbel, the state attorney, was suspected - she appears as SA on the list of people who knew the secret and was therefore considered one of the suspects - as were others, including an innocent prosecutor involved in Sharon's Belgian case, who was named in a telephone tip off to Rubinstein's office by a colleague at odds with the woman.

The Israeli press can take no pride in its behavior in this affair. There was negligence and treachery. The case file describes "a media person" as an informant of the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Unit.

Eran Shander, head of the unit and the team that investigated the leak, goes overboard with a thrillerlike description of a ride in a police officer's car to near the scene of a rendezvous with an informant named "Nesher" who handed over a copy of the document Kra received - including some erasures.

That was one of the bits of evidence that nailed Glatt-Berkovich. "Nesher" turned her in, and Shander abandoned Nesher - the road from the Shander document presented in the case to guessing Nesher's true identity is very short and easy.

Rubinstein, Shander and Justice Ministry spokesman Yanki Galanti, a former Ma'ariv reporter, tried to cast a net in the open sea, to bring up a fish. Galanti, who pleaded with Shander that the material be "noted separately" and kept confidential, repeated "rumors, bits of rumors, different and strange things that I cannot stand by if asked" - and he will certainly be asked.

Among the rumors that Galanti gossiped were that David Spector, the owner of the private investigation firm, is a "close friend of Amos Schocken." And there's the "Motti Gilat gang," a group of reporters who allegedly are under the Svengalilike influence of the Yedioth Ahronoth investigative reporter. Included in the gang, says Galanti in the case material, are "Michal Grayevski, Gidi Weitz, Amir Oren, Hannah Kim, and Amnon Abramovich." Galanti forgot to give Ehud Olmert who, like Sharon is a suspect in the Greek Island affair, the copyright credit for the urban legend about a gang of reporters.

It's possible, Galanti explained, that the inside source in the Kern case "didn't work opposite Kra," meaning the source gave the document to an unidentified intermediary, a cut-off, in intelligence terminology, and the cut-off passed it on, to Kra.

Equipped with that guess, Shander gathered all the telephone numbers of those reporters and others, and went to make use of the Shin Bet - though after the Supreme Court ruled that out as a possibility, he went to the police intelligence department, to draw a road map to the sources and the reporters.

Cross-matching movements so that if a cell phone of suspect B and journalist A were at the same place at any given moment, the investigation would focus on them. And thus, as a matter of fact, Rubinstein and his people, revealed a professional secret of the Shin Bet that could yet damage a pinpoint prevention operation.

These are the same Rubinstein and Shander who want to scalp the police Criminal Investigations Department, on the controversial grounds that the police transcribed some portions of wiretapped conversations that they were prohibited from transcribing.

This time, Rubinstein made do with a few dozen possible cut-offs, born of rumors. Next time he could feed the computers the entire phone book. If he were to have examined with the same diligence the cut-off couriers involved in Sharon's finances, Glatt-Berkovich would not have gone to the press.

By insisting on taking the case of the leak to criminal court, Rubinstein has put himself in the dock of the accused for the public to judge.