Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday defended Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked against recent criticism over a corruption scandal involving a powerful ally of hers in the Judicial Appointments Committee, vowing that his New Right party’s co-leader will continue to head her ministry for years to come.
Opposition figures had assailed Shaked last week, accusing her of creating a “toxic environment” in the legal system after it emerged that Israel Bar Association head Efi Nave had allegedly helped appoint a female judge in exchange for sexual favors, and tried to promote a male judge in return for sex with the judge’s wife.
“In recent days, powerful political forces on the left banded together to attack Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, since they identify her as the only one who had the courage to change the legal system after 40 years of judges appointed in a closed club,” Bennett said. “Ayelet Shaked arrived, and made changes with determination, courage and wisdom.”
“The attack on Shaked only serves to reinforce one thing. The New Right party will see to it that Ayelet Shaked will continue to serve as justice minister for another four years in order to complete the legal revolution that she is leading,” Bennett vowed.
Shaked has been accused by opponents of helping Nave build up his power within the committee with an eye to promoting her own political interests (like the minister, Nave holds conservative views on judicial authority), and allowing him to allegedly abuse that power under her watch.
Bennett echoed remarks made by Shaked last Thursday at a Bar Association seminar on Jewish law in Jerusalem, where she said the accusations were “false attacks and lies.”
Rejecting calls to step down, Shaked said she’d continue serving as justice minister after the elections in April, for “four more years, until I complete the revolution I have started.”
The justice minister has prided herself on claims she reformed the justice system by bringing in people with a broad range of views.
Nave was arrested Wednesday and questioned by police investigators for allegedly nominating a female judge to a magistrate’s court several years ago, reportedly in exchange for sexual favors. He has since resigned as head of the Israel Bar Association.
He is also suspected of having sexual relations with the wife of another judge, for the purpose of helping her husband advance from a magistrate’s court to a district court position — a promotion that didn’t come to fruition.
As head of the bar association, Nave had one of nine seats on the powerful Judicial Appointments Committee, which decides on placement and promotions for judges in Israel’s three-tiered judicial system. The position gave him an outsize voice in helping jurists advance in their careers, a role police suspect he exploited for sex.
Two other suspects were questioned on Wednesday, a female magistrate’s court judge and a female lawyer, police said, but much of the case remains under gag order.
On Friday Hebrew media reported that a legal intern was questioned by police amid suspicions that Nave had helped her pass the bar exam and find a job in exchange for sex.
Shaked and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, who co-chair the judge selection panel, will be summoned to give testimony, as will the rest of the committee, according to reports.
Bennett and Shaked jointly formed the New Right party December after they left the Jewish Home party following the dissolution of the Knesset and the scheduling of elections for April 9.