Israeli legal experts differ on Norris letters

Israeli legal experts have presented differing opinions on whether letters written by David Norris appealing for clemency on behalf of his former partner, Ezra Nawi could be deemed legally non-disclosable. In 1997, Mr. Nawi was convicted of statutory rape arising from a relationship he had with a 15 year old Palestinian boy. Nawi was aged 39. 

Speaking at his official campaign launch at the Writers' Museum in Dublin on Wednesday (see below), Norris read a legal statement citing the reasons precluding him from publishing the letters (video below). The Irish Times reported on Thursday: 

"The Israeli legal firm Avitan Koronel Solicitors of Haifa advised that 'under Israeli law nothing may be published about proceedings in a closed trial without the approval of the court'. This applied to letters he had written to lawyers acting for Mr Nawi, he said. If other letters to public representatives were disclosed, he could face the prospect of 'expensive litigation'."

[Video of the campaign launch courtesy of the Irish Times' YouTube channel.]

Norris "would not say when he had received the advice or why he had not published it earlier," according to Deaglán de Bréadún.

During Tuesday night's Presidential Debate on TV3 (video below), presenter Vincent Browne asked Norris from whom he had received legal advice that the letters could not be released. David Norris appeared to be caught unawares and refused to answer the question. Understandably, under the pressurised circumstances of a live television debate. Norris may have been unable to recall the name of the legal firm, and could have given an undertaking to clarify the source of the legal advice following the debate. However, Mr Norris had prior notice of the question and knew that a differing legal perspective had been received by TV3.    


The following question was sent to Professor Asher Maoz of the Faculty of Law in Tel-Aviv University:

Can you advise whether letters written to the President of Israel, Ministers in the Israel government and other public officials could be deemed legally non-disclosable because they referred to a case heard in camera? 

Responding via email, Professor Noaz said:

I understand that Mr. David Norris is running again for presidency after he withdrew from an earlier race following the disclosure of his letter to the judge in the Ezra Nawi statutory rape case.

That case was heard in camera probably under sec. 68(B)(6) in order to protect the minor (The Court may order in camera hearing also in order to protect the interest of a complainer or an accused in sex offences, yet I doubt very much whether the in camera hearing was intended to defend Nawi. In any case his conviction was reported in a later open court opinion in another criminal suit brought against him).

Besides, publication of the name and the identity of a minor against whom a sex offence was performed constitute an offence under another statute.

Indeed a person may not report any proceedings that took place in camera – including documents which were submitted in court – without the court's permission.

I cannot see, however, how this would apply to letters written to the President of Israel, Government Ministers and public officials since obviously they were submitted in court, the more so since Nawi's conviction has been widely reported (Needless to say, any item in the letters, which may disclose the identity of the minor must be deleted).

Arguably, David Norris has achieved as much politically as any other presidential candidate. His record on human rights and equality advocacy is equalled perhaps only by Michael D. Higgins. His record, coupled with his positivity, public image and charisma, resonates with people. This was reflected in strong polling by the openly gay Senator as recently as 24 September when Norris led the field at 21%, three points ahead of nearest rival Michael D. Higgins. (Norris was not confirmed as a candidate at this stage and the issue of additioanal letters had not come to light.)

David Norris's stock reply when challenged on the letters has been: "The Irish people know me, they know my record. My life is an open book." The problem now for David Norris is that increasingly people feel that they don't know him, and that his refusal to publish the letters raises questions about how open his book is. The controversy has been very damaging, as was reflected in this week's two opinion polls which show that Mr Norris has lost half of his support. 


Below is the reference David Norris wrote for Ezra Nawi:


Below is further footage of David Norris's campaign launch speech at the Writers' Museum, Dublin on Wednesday, 5 October.