Israel Bar Association chief resigns amid sex corruption scandal

Efi Nave, suspected of advancing judicial appointments for sexual favors, says he doesn’t want his troubles to hurt the association

Israel Bar Association former chairman Efi Nave (center) at a Tel Aviv court on January 16, 2019 (Koko/Pool/Flash90)
Israel Bar Association former chairman Efi Nave (center) at a Tel Aviv court on January 16, 2019 (Koko/Pool/Flash90)

The scandal-plagued chairman of the Israel Bar Association announced his resignation on Thursday, amid an investigation into suspicions he traded his influence as a member of the state’s judge-appointing body in exchange for sex

“I made the decision because the Bar Association is very important and dear to me,” Efi Nave said in a statement announcing the move.

“I don’t want my personal affairs, which I assume will conclude in short order, to hurt the vital work of the association,” he said, adding that he wanted to “thank all my friends for the path we have taken together, and to wish success to my successor.”

As head of the Bar Association, Nave held 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.

Nave was arrested on 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 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 never came through.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, right, with Israel Bar Association then-chairman Efi Nave during an event in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2017. (Flash90)

A judge released Nave to house arrest late Wednesday, rejecting a police request to hold him in custody for three days.

Two other suspects were questioned on Wednesday, a female magistrate’s court judge and a female lawyer, police said, clearing for publication some details of the case, much of which remains under gag order.

The judge who was questioned will reportedly take a leave of absence.

The affairs follows closely on the heels of another scandal for Nave, who was indicted last month on suspicion that he smuggled a female acquaintance out of the country for a trip abroad and then tried to slip her back unregistered through border control.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, who co-chair the Judicial Appointments Committee, will be summoned to give testimony, as will the rest of the committee, according to reports.

The other members of the committee are Supreme Court justices Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Bar Association member Ilana Seker, and MKs Robert Ilatov and Nurit Koren.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (R) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

“This is a tough day for me as justice minister and as a woman,” Shaked said Wednesday at a conference in Tel Aviv on women in business.

Shaked faced strong criticism from opposition lawmakers after the case was made public.

Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said the Judicial Selection Committee “operated under terror and corruption, under the destructive leadership of Justice Minister Shaked. The corrupt environment and immoral alliances she created are the basis for the shocking case revealed today.”

“The judges who are committee members were forced to operate in a polluted and threatening environment,” Yachimovich added. “They should now raise the alarm and save the legal system from severe harm, because unfortunately there will be a cloud of doubt over all the hundreds of judges appointed during Shaked’s term, even the worthy ones.”

On Thursday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett defended Shaked, his New Right party co-leader, from criticism in the case.

“In the past 24 hours there has been a wave of political attacks, harsh and poisonous, against Shaked. I have known her for years. All of her actions were conducted lawfully, out of deep fidelity to one thing only — the good of the State of Israel. My friends on the left, don’t be fooled: Shaked’s judicial revolution won’t be stopped,” Bennett tweeted.

“Shaked has carried out an unprecedented revolution in the judicial system and is in the opinion of many, including myself, the best justice minister Israel has ever had,” he wrote.

The Israel Bar Association offices in Jerusalem were raided Wednesday by police and closed to the public, the Ynet news site reported. Witnesses were summoned for questioning and documents and computer files were collected, police said in a statement.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly won’t oversee the investigation as he is a close friend of Nave. Instead, State Attorney Shai Nitzan will oversee it along with his deputy.

Senior officials in the legal system were said to be increasingly worried by the developments in the case, which has spawned many rumors and social media conspiracy theories.

Nave faced growing calls for his resignation as the scandal broke. Three of his allies in the Bar Association announced their resignations on Tuesday, before Nave was formally named as the suspect in the case, saying they could no longer serve under his leadership.

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