Outspoken Justice Employee Fired for Questioning Lawmaker’s Loyalty

An attorney who has served in Israel’s Justice Ministry for 33 years and headed its civil division for the past 22 has been fired after questioning a Knesset member’s loyalty to the state.

Plia Albek, one of the ministry’s most senior attorneys, has raised an uproar on a number of past occasions by issuing legal opinions and statements seen by many as serving the political right.

Until now, though, she had always managed to survive the controversy.

The latest uproar was caused when she issued a legal opinion on a bill proposed by Knesset member Chaim Oron of the left-wing Meretz bloc that called on the government to grant equal compensation to Arab and Jewish victims of terrorist attacks. Currently, only Jewish victims are entitled to such compensation.

Albek wrote: “One receives the message from Oron’s bill that the State of Israel is not endeared to him and that he does not understand that as a member of Knesset he has the duty of being loyal to the State of Israel.”

The decision to remove Albek from her post was made jointly by Justice Minister David Libai, Attorney General Yosef Harish and the director-general of the Justice Ministry, Haim Klugman.

Libai also told Albek that she would face charges in civil service court regarding the issue.

Albek, 55, is considered an expert on real estate law. Many of the settlements in the territories were made possible by a legal formula devised by Albek that legalized the acquisition of land without actually confiscating it from Arab owners.

For this position and others, she was often accused by the political left of using her position at the Justice Ministry to serve Jewish settlers in the territories.

INTENSIVE PRESSURE BY MINISTERS

Albek denied the charges, saying she had worked strictly according to the law.

Albek angered critics with her various rulings and statements. In one controversial case, she ruled that an Arab who died in the custody of the Shin Bet security agency should be regarded as an absentee and that therefore compensation for his death must be given to the state and not to his widow.

She also ruled that a Palestinian ordered by soldiers to remove a Palestine Liberation Organization flag from an electricity pole — his arms were amputated after being electrocuted — did not deserve compensation for losing his ability to continue his job selling falafel since he could still use his prosthetic arms.

The decision to remove Albek followed intensive pressure by ministers and Knesset members in reaction to her latest statement.

Libai met with Albek and asked her to clarify her statement, but she refused to retract the legal opinion.

Albek claimed that her legal opinion was written two weeks ago and that its contents were known to her superiors.

She claimed her opinion was taken out of context as part of an ongoing campaign designed to remove her from office. She was to be moved to another unspecified position, but it was not clear if she would remain with the ministry.

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