Israel’s High Court Orders Govt. to Show Cause Why It Should Not Proceed with Shin Bet Probe

The Supreme Court has given the government two weeks to show cause why it should not proceed with an investigation of the Shin Bet affair.

The court, in a ruling handed down at midnight Tuesday, also ordered the government and Avraham Shalom, former head of Shin Bet, to present within one week full details of the exoneration of Shalom and three of his senior aides received in the form of a Presidential pardon last week, in advance of any sort of inquiry that may be held in the future.

A panel of three senior justices–Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, Miriam Ben-Porat and Aharon Barak–issued the orders after two days of hearings on petitions by members of the legal profession challenging the validity of the pardons granted by President Chaim Herzog.

OPTION OF REVIEWING PARDONS

The court stressed that it was not proposing a judicial review of the President’s “considerations” in awarding the pardons but simply sought more information about the process leading to them. Nevertheless, by issuing the order the justices left open the option of considering at a later date the validity of the pardons.

The petitioners, who include more than a score of lawyers and professors of law, argued before the court that the pardons were motivated by the government’s desire to foreclose any investigation of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services or the political echelons to which it is directly responsible.

They contended that the pardons, granted without the recipients being formally charged, tried or convicted for any illegality, were not an instrument of clemency but an entry by the President into the political arena and therefore invalid.

Shalom has been accused of an elaborate cover-up involving perjury and fabricated evidence in the case of the unexplained deaths of two Arab bus hijackers in custody of security agents in April, 1984. He stated in his application for a pardon that all of his actions in the case were undertaken “with authority and permission.”

LIKUD STRONGLY OPPOSES PROBE

This would seem to implicate Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir who held the office of Prime Minister in the Likud-led government at the time of the incident. Although nothing has been proven against Shamir, Likud is vehemently opposed to any investigation of Shin Bet on national security grounds. Shamir has said however that if the Cabinet decides on an inquiry he would accept the decision and “say what I have to say.”

The Cabinet, which has taken no stand so far, is sharply divided over an investigation of Shin Bet. Likud is seeking a decision against the creation of a judicial commission of inquiry. A majority of the Labor Ministers and the Labor Party’s Knesset faction are demanding a commission. Some Laborites, notably Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Police Minister Haim Barlev have expressed reservations on state security grounds. Barlev and others have proposed a single investigator with special powers rather than a judicial commission. But Labor’s Knesset faction voted overwhelmingly in caucus Tuesday for a commission.

Behind the scenes efforts continued meanwhile to find a compromise that would satisfy Labor and Likud and avert a coalition crisis four months before the rotation of power agreement takes effect and Shamir assumes the office of Prime Minister. Whether these efforts succeed probably will not be known at least until the Cabinet convenes for its regular weekly session this Sunday.

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