Court rejects ex-bar association chief’s appeal to overturn passport scam conviction

Efi Nave says he will take case to Supreme Court, vows to run to regain his former post; lobby group urges Israel Bar Association to block his campaign

Screen capture from video of Efi Nave at the Lod District Court, May 28, 2023. (Walla. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Efi Nave at the Lod District Court, May 28, 2023. (Walla. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Lod District Court on Sunday rejected an appeal by the former head of the Israel Bar Association seeking to overturn his conviction for smuggling a woman through passport control at Ben Gurion Airport.

Efi Nave and his partner, Bar Katz, were convicted last year and received suspended sentences of two months and fines of NIS 2,000 (around $550).

In rejecting the appeal, the court found that, in the public interest, it must take into consideration that Nave was head of the bar association at the time of the offense.

Nave said he will appeal the ruling and continue his campaign to return to his former position as head of the IBA. He stepped down in a separate scandal several years ago amid suspicions he advocated for the judicial appointment of a woman with whom he was romantically involved.

Nave helmed the bar association from 2015 until he resigned in 2019 following his arrest, with prosecutors later saying they intended to indict him and then-judge Eti Craif for bribery and other charges. However, the case was closed two years later, with neither of them facing charges.

Nave was separately indicted in 2018 on suspicion that he smuggled Katz out of the country for a trip abroad, and then tried to slip her back unregistered through border control.

Efi Nave in Magistrate’s Court in Lod, on April 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Last month, he declared that he intends to run to be the next chief of the Israel Bar Association. The passport scam conviction did not include a designation of moral turpitude, which may have prevented him from running for the position.

Speaking to media at the courthouse after his appeal was rejected on Sunday, Nave said: “If I can be justice minister [due to the absence of moral turpitude in his conviction], then surely I can be the head of the Bar Association,” Walla reported.

Nave added that if the Bar Association’s election committee tries to pin moral turpitude on him, he will take the matter to the law courts.

The Movement for Quality Government lobby group welcomed the Lod District Court ruling and vowed to “use all means at its disposal” in order to prevent Nave from running in the coming election for head of the bureau.

“A person like that cannot stand at the head of the Bar Association,” it said in a statement, adding that it expects the bureau’s ethical committee “to study the verdict given today and file a complaint against Nave to prevent him from running in the election.”

The appeal court found that although Nave’s actions regarding the passport conviction “have no direct connection to the role and status of the appellant” as the chairman of the Bar Association, it “cannot be ignored when examining the public interest.”

“The public’s trust in the legal system, including the lawyers who are an integral part of it, is damaged not only if a lawyer, and certainly the person who heads the lawyers, commits an offense related to his role as a lawyer, but also if he commits any other offense,” the judges ruled.

As part of his position as head of the bar association, Nave served as the legal group’s representative on the powerful Judicial Appointments Committee. The nine-member panel — which is under heavy scrutiny amid the government’s judicial overhaul plan — decides on placement and promotions for judges in Israel’s three-tiered judicial system.

Nave was accused of using his influence on the panel to barter for sexual favors with potential judges, as was alleged in the incident with Craif.

Under a contentious bill to give the coalition extensive control over judicial picks, which nearly passed into law last month, the Israel Bar Association would no longer have a seat on the committee.

The legislation, which is part of a larger package of far-reaching proposals to remake the judiciary, is currently frozen amid talks that President Isaac Herzog is hosting with the aim of building broad consensus for judicial reforms.

Nave’s decision to throw his hat in the ring comes after his successor, Avi Himi, resigned in January following accusations of sexual indecency. Police announced a probe into the matter, hours after a television report alleged he masturbated during a Zoom call with a young female lawyer who was seeking his support for a judicial appointment.

Israel Bar Association chief Avi Himi, in Tel Aviv, February 21, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Himi, one of the loudest opposition voices against the government’s plan to radically overhaul the judicial system, acknowledged engaging in the behavior but has insisted he received consent. His accuser, who has declined to reveal her identity, has said she did not consent to Himi masturbating in front of her.

Besides Nave, other contestants for Israel Bar Association chief are Amit Bechar, who has been acting chair since Himi stepped down, and Avraham Lalum.

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