Alleged misconduct by Israel Bar chief to be probed; he resigns, denies wrongdoing
Police announce inquiry as Avi Himi steps down a day after TV report alleged he masturbated during Zoom call with young female lawyer
Police announced Tuesday they will examine an accusation of sexual indecency against outgoing Israel Bar Association head Avi Himi, hours after he announced his resignation in the wake of a TV report detailing the allegations.
Police said in a statement that the decision was made following consultations with the State Prosecutor’s Office, though the matter has not escalated to a formal investigation.
The announcement came less than 24 hours after Channel 13 revealed that Himi had exposed himself to a female lawyer. The report said the incident took place during a Zoom call with the lawyer, who had asked Himi to support her appointment as a judge. After notifying her that he had sent a letter recommending her promotion, the senior lawyer allegedly took his pants off and started masturbating.
Himi, one of the loudest opposition voices against the government’s plan to radically overhaul the judicial system, has insisted that he received consent before engaging in the behavior but heeded calls to step down on Tuesday afternoon.
His accuser — who has declined to reveal her identity — insisted on Tuesday that she did not consent to Himi masturbating in front of him.
“He was a man with status who allowed himself to behave in an unacceptable manner. Unfortunately, this regressive behavior by men of authority toward women still happens today,” the woman told Channel 13 news. “What he did is sexual harassment.”
Himi continued to defend himself after his resignation, telling Channel 12 that the timing of the accusations “isn’t coincidental” and referencing his support for the government’s ongoing effort to restrict the power of the High Court of Justice.
“The timing was intentional and clear — they tried to take me out. They’ll never succeed,” he said in the interview, which was conducted hours before he submitted his resignation.
“The past day was the hardest day of my life. I can’t look my wife and kids in the eye,” Himi added.
He acknowledged having carried on an “intimate” relationship with his accuser several years ago and rejected the characterization of his conduct as “indecent.”
The outgoing bar association chief was roundly criticized as additional details about his conduct were revealed.
Speaking at a ceremony for new lawyers where Himi was originally scheduled to appear alongside her, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said she regretted the reports pertaining to the bar association chair casting a pall over what should have been a festive occasion.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said at a conference in Eilat that the affair highlighted the need for the types of changes to the judicial system that the government is seeking.
“Judges greatly influence the future of the country and its values. They should be elected in a transparent, public process with a hearing, in a committee whose composition doesn’t include shenanigans and special interests,” Smotrich said, referring to the Bar Association chief’s current placement on the panel that appoints the country’s judges. One of the components of the coalition’s judicial overhaul plan is to remove that posting and grant a majority on the judicial appointments committee to the government.
Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in a statement that Himi “should do some soul-searching.”
“The fact that someone supports the positions of the left does not give him immunity,” Ben Gvir said.
Himi announced last month that he would not run for another term as head of the Israel Bar Association in protest of the government’s proposal.
Sources in the association told the Walla news site that the forum will hold expedited elections to elect a temporary chief until a permanent director is elected in June.