Ex-bar association chief denies he’s Levin’s proxy, defends behavior in sex scandal

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A disgraced former head of the Israel Bar Association — who is running again for the position — gave a TV interview Saturday in which he rejected criticism that he was cooperating with the architect of the government’s judicial overhaul plan and denied wrongdoing in a sex scandal that had forced him to resign as head of the bar association.

Efi Nave headed the bar association from 2015 until he resigned in 2019 following his arrest, after which prosecutors said they intended to indict him and then-judge Eti Craif — with whom he was romantically involved — for bribery and other charges. Nave was suspected of advocating for Craif’s judicial appointment in return for sexual favors but the case was closed two years later, with neither of them charged.

In the interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” Nave responded to claims he’s in league with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the driving force behind the controversial push to overhaul the justice system: “I am not his emissary in this war. Not now and not ever. I have no intention or desire to apologize. This is a spin that my rivals stuck on me.”

Elections to head the bar association are to be held on June 20, with Nave running against acting chair and overhaul opponent Amit Bechar — two candidates with opposing views on how to engage with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The appointment of the head of the bar association is significant since whoever holds the role sits on the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, which is in charge of picking and promoting all the judges in Israel’s three-tiered judicial system.

Nave, viewed as the right wing’s favorite to head the committee, criticized parts of the planned judicial overhaul legislation in the interview, particularly a bill that seeks to change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee to give the coalition of the day control of almost all judge picks, including for the Supreme Court.

Under the proposed bill — which has passed all the legislative hurdles besides its final votes — 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.

Magistrate Eti Craif. (Israel Courts website)

“I think that the reform, as it is presented, is a mistake. It needs to go in a different direction completely and to begin with the police and prosecution. There, cases lie for 10 years and no decision is made,” he said.

“The makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee does not need to be changed. The makeup is correct and balanced,” he added.

“I don’t want just politicians to choose judges. I was on the committee. The only professionals are judges and lawyers. Politicians on the committee don’t do their homework like us. They don’t know how to deal with professional feedback. What interests them, more or less, is the origin of the candidate and their political affiliation,” he stated.

Taking aim at his rival Bechar, Nave quipped that the latter had transformed the bar association into a “branch of Meretz” — a reference to the left-wing political party — since he took over from predecessor Avi Himi. Bechar has participated and given speeches in protests against the judicial overhaul.

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.

“What Bechar did, no other head has done. Himi started it and Bechar made it worse. Today we are in a situation where the acting head demonstrates and blocks the Ayalon Highway [in Tel Aviv], giving the offices an extreme political identity. How can it be that an acting head, who did not receive permission [to do so] from the institutions, takes the lawyers captive [to his agenda]? He decides to paint the office in a certain extremist color,” Nave said.

Before the sex scandal broke out, Himi was also a visible participant in the protests, which have included the frequent blocking of the Ayalon Highway.

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

Nave said that since the scandal that forced him to resign, he has become more experienced and has made amends for his actions.

“I was wrong. I made an error. I wasn’t perfect. I paid a price unlike anyone has. My privacy has been trampled on. My private life became public domain and at the end of the day, they took four devices from me at the peak of my power, checked them and found nothing,” he said.

“All that they found was that my marriage was not at its best. I had a relationship with a lawyer for two years before I was elected to the role of head of the bar association. It was a legitimate relationship. A president of a serving court told me that if that’s all they found on me, I deserve a certificate of good conduct,” he said, adding that neither he nor Craif had known he would rise to the top role when they started their romantic affiliation.

Nave noted that he had not yet been appointed to the committee when Craif’s candidacy was approved by the Judicial Selection Committee in 2016.

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

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

In May, the Lod District Court rejected an appeal by Nave seeking to overturn his conviction.

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