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The Buzaglo Test

As scandal swirls around the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and some political commentators wonder why he isn’t held more strictly to accounts while others protest that he has been tarnished unfairly, almost everyone in Israel agrees that he should be subject to the Buzaglo Test. The Buzaglo Test, the conventional wisdom holds, needs to be applied.

If you don’t live in Israel, where the term is a household one, the odds are that you have never heard of the Buzaglo Test. And if you haven’t, you don’t stand much chance of guessing what it is. It is not like a lie-detector test. It is not like a Rorschach test. It is not like an alcohol test. It is an indigenous Israeli invention.

What is it? Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with professor Ron Shapira, the intellectually maverick dean of Bar-Ilan University’s law school:

Question: The CEO of [the pharmaceutical company] Teva, Eli Hurwitz, said after his acquittal on appeal by the High Court of Justice [on charges of illegal business practices] that if his name were Buzaglo, he would never have been indicted in the first place. Is it fair to assume that you agree?Answer: It’s time to be honest about the Buzaglo Test. We’re talking about a fiction of the media that has no existence in reality. And if you want to know my opinion, it’s a good thing that it doesn’t. It’s unreasonable to think that when a suspect is the prime minister, the prosecutor can relate to him as if he were an ordinary person whose indictment has no public significance…. No government will fall if Buzaglo is indicted. Do you seriously mean to tell me that one shouldn’t think more carefully about prosecuting [a prime minister] than Buzaglo?

You’re probably beginning to get the idea: The Buzaglo Test calls for determining whether a public figure, when accused or suspected of a crime, is being dealt with as an ordinary citizen would be. If he is treated more leniently, or on the contrary (as Hurwitz felt happened to him) more harshly, the Buzaglo Test has been failed. As a Tel Aviv court ruled last year in acquitting the then-mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, of a corruption charge:

“The accused must be judged by the same standards that would be applied to the least important person in Israel (i.e., by the Buzaglo Test).”

But who was Buzaglo, the symbolic “least important person” the test is named for?

To my surprise, none of the half-dozen lawyer acquaintances I asked knew the answer to this question. All knew, of course, of the Buzaglo Test; the expression has been around for decades. Yet no one could tell me who Buzaglo was, what his first name was, what his case was about, whether he was convicted or acquitted, and why he became the symbol that he did.

In the end, my friend David Weiner, Israel’s deputy chief public defender, became so intrigued by the mystery that he spent hours on the Internet getting to the bottom of it. His conclusion: Buzaglo never existed.

The term “Buzaglo Test,” according to David’s findings, was coined by Aharon Barak, today chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, back in 1976, when Barak was legal adviser to the government of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. A financial scandal that helped bring down that government involved Asher Yadlin, the director of the Histadrut’s General Health Fund who had been nominated to be the new governor of the Bank of Israel. Charges of corruption were brought against him; an investigation took place, and the police asked for a court order remanding him in custody for the duration of his questioning. When Yadlin’s lawyers and high Labor Party officials opposed this, the decision was tossed into the lap of the government’s legal adviser, who ruled in favor of the police on the grounds that Yadlin did not deserve special consideration and should be dealt with as if he were a hypothetical ordinary citizen named Buzaglo.

And why did Barak pick the name Buzaglo rather than Cohen, Levi or Rosenkrantz? No doubt because any Israeli would immediately have recognized it as a typical Moroccan-Jewish name, and the Moroccans were known in those years as the immigrant group that had done most poorly in Israel and was at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. A Levi or a Cohen might have connections and influence; a Buzaglo was, by the sound of his name, a nobody who could count on nobody to help him.

My lawyer friends were taken aback by the discovery that there was never a real Buzaglo. Even the erudite Israeli jurist Avraham Pechter, writing not long ago in the pages of the Internet bulletin News First Class, declared, while deploring the current state of the Israeli legal system, that were the “original Buzaglo” around today, he would not get the fair trial that he got at the time. Let us hope that, Shapira’s reservations notwithstanding, the Buzaglo Test is less mythical than Buzaglo.

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