Former Minister of Justice Haim Ramon goes on the offensive: “The left and the center in Israel have given up on persuading the public, they want to rule through the judiciary and the bureaucracy”
In recent years, it seems that the discourse surrounding the failures of the State Attorney’s Office in the Netanyahu cases serves mainly one side of the political map. However, in the eyes of many, there is no justifiable reason for this. The use of Legal precedents and improper technics of inquiry are things that every person for whom democracy is dear to their heart, should voice opposition to.
Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon said “they are in an ‘anyone but Bibi’ psychosis”, when describing the phenomena at a conference this week of the Movement for Governability and Democracy. The conference was held on the occasion of the movement’s eight years of activity, with the author of the book ‘The Ruling Party of Bagatz’, Adv. Simcha Rothman, the movement’s legal advisor, interviewing Ramon on current events in the legal system in Israel.
At the beginning of the conversation, Rothman stated that: “There is no better day to hold this interview than a day when the court instructs the State Attorney’s Office to amend dozens of sections of the indictment against the prime minister.” Ramon agreed and explained that: “The court gently told the prosecution to drop the ridiculous clause of prosecuting a prime minister, or any other politician for that matter, under the charge that positive media coverage constitutes bribery. There is no such thing. They wanted to inflate the indictment because they knew it was too meager. Even [former State Prosecutor] Shai Nitzan said it was precedent.”
“It undermines all the foundations of the political-media arrangement. I’ve been there, I know the relationship between publishers and the like. I have enough stories that if Netanyahu summons witnesses and attorneys to court to testify about their past and present relationship with journalists, it will be very unpleasant for many people. There are dozens of cases in which politicians have received so-called ‘paid for’ favorable coverage. This is an absurd accusation that has no foundation and the prosecution should get off of it.”
From the Bottom, Up
During the conversation, Ramon presented what he believes to be the motives behind the investigations of Netanyahu. “In my estimation, until 2016-2017, Netanyahu was safeguarded . For example, they did not investigate ‘The Bibi-Tours’ accusation. [Attorney General] Mandelblit closed the second ‘Bibi-Tours’ case and all of Sarah Netanyahu’s cases were closed. Netanyahu paid for this safeguarding by defending the system, such as opposing the splitting of the attorney general’s position.
“What happened in 2017, and I have no actual proof of that, is that there was a change in relations with Netanyahu. Until then, the prosecution had not touched him, all the cases that came up were removed from the agenda. Then, in my opinion, sources within the State Attorney’s Office and the police decided that they wanted to end Netanyahu’s term in office, they pressed from below, and the pressures from below did its job.”
Ramon also addressed the issue of “framing” allegedly carried out by the State Attorney’s Office. “When Menachem Mazuz took over as Attorney General, he said he had found a policy of marking targets and “framing”. He closed Arik Sharon’s case and was a step away from closing my own case, but then came the pressure and attacks on him, including a poem by Nathan Zach “The Consultant Mazuz Bought for a penny,” and he slowly straightened out and became one of the worst of them.”
“Even when (Yossi) Beilin was Minister of Justice, they waged a vile campaign of lies against him, such as the false charge of homosexual relationships with an associate, just because he wanted to appoint someone who was not a jurist. Even Mandelblit said they framed him. All of these cases are under what Mazuz called “marking targets”. Even when Shai Nitzan used to say, ‘We don’t frame,’ I kept saying that he frames and how, and I also added that he is welcome to sue me for libel. He, of course, never sued.”
“The system is very strong, and Mandelblit stood up to it to a point. If he was strong enough, he would remove the charge of bribery in the 4,000 file, and would be content with fraud and breach of trust. And as for “fraud and breach of trust” – only after you have done something are you told that what you have done becomes an offense, that it is very strange. It’s against the rule of no penalizing unless warned.”
A Danger to Democracy
“[Former Chief Justice Aharon] Barak carried out a coup d’etat against the government, whereas the attorney general determines what the law is and he is the one who represents the government,” Ramon stated, adding: “Posner said of Barak that he was a ‘legal pirate’ because he robbed the public of its democracy. Democracy must not be harmed, it is the most precious thing, only through it, is it possible to have a situation where once you are in power and once I am in power.”
In Ramon’s eyes, “Aaron Barak was an extraordinary politician, a genius. He understood how he could gain the support of the right and not cross red lines. He knew how to walk on the edge without crossing the line, so that the right would not rise up against him. But his heirs, who are not at his level, follow in his footsteps and do not understand his sophistication of how to be both a jurist and not cross lines that will cause growing sections of the public to be against them.”
When Yair Lapid was finance minister, he said in 2014, not many years ago, that the law enforcement system and the bureaucrats had conducted a hostile takeover of democracy. He said he could present dozens, if not hundreds, of instances in which the law enforcement system trampled on democracy. He explained that they do it because they think politicians are at best inept and at worst, corrupt. Lapid explained in 2014 that our main mission is to restore sovereignty to the people. But because he is not a leader but rather one dragged after the public, he has aligned over the years with his public, who are mostly from among the elites, from the white bourgeoisie. And he never explained this ‘flip flop’, it is simply gross opportunism.”
According to Ramon: “Anyone within [the] Blue and White [party] and to the left of them, wants to give power to the judiciary, so why even vote for them? Vote directly for the judiciary. They are playing innocent, pretending, because for years the left and center in Israel have given up on trying to persuade the general public of their positions. So they want to govern through the justice system and bureaucracy. It has now reached its pinnacle, as even basic laws are meaningless in their eyes and they have no problem changing them as they please. There would be no High Court of Justice as it is today if Ben-Gurion or someone like him had been the prime minister. Ben-Gurion would remind the Attorney General that he and the government are the sovereigns.”
Ramon said that during his tenure as a government minister, he encountered opposition from the bureaucracy on various policy decisions, and explained that when officials try to “put a spoke in the wheels”, the solution is to look directly at them and firmly announce what is actually going to be done. “The legal advisors repeal laws that the ministers want to submit and say it will not comply with the High Court and all sorts of concepts invented in Israel. As a minister, this is what they would tell me all the time. So I would tell them there was no problem, go, file with the High Court. Today I can say that I never lost a case in the High Court.”
“Every time an official would say ‘no’ to me, I would call the Cabinet Secretary and tell him that I was implementing emergency regulations, and thus I succeeded in making significant changes to the system. So they realized they needed to thwart my appointment. And the weakness of the political system has led to the justice system taking another bite and another piece and now the legal system in Israel has gained powers that do not exist anywhere else in the world.”
The Left of the Past
“Why is this such a rare position on the left?” Rothman asked. “Why is it so hard to find leftists who perceive bureaucracy and its danger to the state and understand the importance of political cooperation with the “second” Israel?” Ramon replied that in his eyes: “A large part of the left and of the center have no respect for democracy. The demonstrations in Balfour are not against Bibi but against those who chose Bibi. It amounts to disrespect for the results of democracy and elections, which is reflected in the demonstrations.”
“The left has detached itself from Ben-Gurion’s legacy of saying ‘a state comes first.’ When the UN commission came in 1947 to examine whether to give the Jews a state, Ben-Gurion sought out HaChazon Ish [Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, known by the name of his magnum opus, Chazon Ish] and signed a status quo with him so that they would not testify before the commission that they were against the Jewish state.”
“Jabotinsky said it in more beautiful language. In 1934 he wrote a letter to Ben-Gurion in which he explained that even if he was not a socialist, as long as the Jewish state was established, even if under a socialist regime, he would agree to it. And even if it is established as a religious state, he will agree, and even if its language is Yiddish, provided that the state of the Jews is established. Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion understood how important this focus was. Ben-Gurion gave a lot to the ultra-Orthodox and the NRP and even set up branches for them, because they supported what needed to be supported. Bibi understands this in depth, but the left lost it years ago.”
“The left is all about ‘politically correct,'” Ramon said. “An example that drives me crazy is migrant workers. They infiltrate, break the law, but the left backs them up along with the Supreme Court and I just don’t get it. In matters of immigration, the worldview of the officials in the Ministry of Justice is “disturbed liberalism.” Itamar Ben Gvir took action once, perhaps the only time he did something I agree with, and brought some infiltrators to Gordon’s Pool. All the ‘bleeding hearts’ fled for their lives, some having not returned to this day.”
Ramon ended the interview in a worried tone. “Unfortunately, the political system today does not deal with content, but only with the question of whether you are for, or against Bibi. If I’m not saying he’s corrupt and must sit in jail, then I’m a Bibi-ist. But it is not corruption that concerns the hypocritical and double-standard left.”
“After all, in Israeli politics there is no one more corrupt than Ehud Barak and they have no problem with him being a candidate on the Meretz list. Eldad Yaniv said that Barak pocketed half a million dollars in the election and I corrected that it was $650,000. He said he received from the Wexner Foundation 10 million for work he did for them but said he did not actually do all the work. I myself would return the money, but he of course, did not. But because he’s against Bibi, everything’s fine.”
Ramon testified that: “Many of the hypocritical left ask me why I support Bibi and I answer that I do not support Bibi, I support you, I defend the rights of defendants and detainees in Israel and it can be any one of you. Now it is him, and if there is an investigation against him then it should be conducted in the most clean manner. I’m defending that, I’m not protecting him but all of us.”
Ramon concluded that: “A large part of what happened in my trial – concealment of evidence, extortion, threats, etc., also happened in Netanyahu’s case, and I say this with authority.”
Ori Klein is the Editor of Mida Online magazine
*Translated from the Hebrew edition.