Israel’s government on Sunday approved cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit as the next attorney general and Hebrew University professor The cabinet also approved the appointment of economist Avi Simhon as chairman of the National Economic Council and economic adviser to the prime minister.
Mandelblit, whose appointment was approved unanimously by the cabinet, holds the rank of major general in the IDF reserves, and served as head of the IDF’s Military Advocate General corps from 2009 to 2011. He also served as a military judge in the Gaza Strip before Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal territory in 2005. He was responsible for legal aspects of the army’s activities during the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-9. Among other matters, he dealt with the legality of cluster bombs and with the UN’s controversial Goldstone Report on Cast Lead.
During his service in Gaza, Mandelblit openly welcomed dialogue with human rights groups, famously claiming “they do their job and I do mine.”
He was the sole nominee among 14 candidates to win the nod of a special nominations committee earlier this month. The five-member committee, appointed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and headed by former Supreme Court chief justice Asher Grunis, voted 4-1 in Mandelblit’s favor, making him the only candidate to win the four-vote minimum required for consideration by the cabinet.
Grunis cast the only vote against Mandelblit, who is the favorite of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaked.
The nomination is seen as a victory for Netanyahu and Shaked, with the latter a vocal critic of the current attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, whom she has argued effectively obstructs government legislation.
Mandelblit’s appointment is likely to be met with petitions to the High Court of Justice due to his past implication in the so-called Harpaz affair, a convoluted episode of corruption involving IDF top brass, although no charges were ever filed against him. Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general, was absent from Sunday’s cabinet vote, with pundits speculating his absence was connected to the Harpaz affair.
If Mandelblit clears the legal hurdles and is appointed attorney general, he will replace Weinstein in late January.
Netanyahu praised Simhon’s “managerial and leadership abilities” on Sunday, and said he was “committed to all citizens of Israel and to the economy of the State of Israel.”
The National Economic Council serves as the prime minister’s top advisory body on economic matters. It is currently headed by Eugene Kandel.
Simhon, a professor of economics at Hebrew University, served on the Trajtenberg Committee appointed by Netanyahu to develop an economic policy to tackle inequality and rising housing costs following the 2011 economic protests.
Simhon formerly worked as an economic adviser to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz when Steinitz served as finance minister.
His candidacy was criticized by ultra-Orthodox and opposition lawmakers when it was announced earlier this month. Some charged the economist with “hating the poor.”
Simhon raised hackles in 2010 when he spoke out against immigration from the former Soviet Union, saying Soviet immigrants “were never Jews. Maybe they had some grandfather who was once Jewish. They came here out of economic considerations. If they had the chance to go to a more developed country, they would have gone there.”
He also enraged the ultra-Orthodox the same year when he called on Haredi parents to stop having so many children.
“You need to tell them: ‘It’s irresponsible, you’re doing bad by your children, your society. A regular person checks how many kids he can afford, and the taxes he pays are transferred to those who have eight kids without being able to support them,'” Simhon said at a conference in 2010.
Ultra-Orthodox families in Israel have one more child than the national average, according to 2010 statistics, but earn less than the average income.
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said earlier this month that Simhon’s appointment was “a mistake and inappropriate,” calling him a member of the “one percent,” according to the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabat.
“Simhon is not only one of those sated people who don’t feel for the hungry and poor, but are even convinced that the poor prevent them from being better fed,” Maklev, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, said. “People of this opinion are selfish, disconnected and cruel.”
Following Sunday’s cabinet vote, Simhon seemed to address the concerns.
“I am grateful for the confidence that the prime minister and the entire cabinet have vested in me,” he said. “I am aware of the responsibility demanded of the chairman of the National Economic Council and am committed to leading processes to strengthen the Israeli economy for the benefit of all citizens and sectors: ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, new immigrants and veteran citizens.”