42 former top legal advisers back AG against government ouster threats

Letter tells Baharav-Miara that coalition is ignoring her decisions as part of its ‘coup,’ laments calls for her removal just because she is ‘doing her job’

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Amid escalating rhetoric from ministers and coalition members against Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, 42 former senior legal advisers — including onetime attorneys general — wrote a public letter supporting her, published Tuesday.

The rare letter — signed by former legal advisers to government ministries, other state bodies, and the police — also argued that the government’s judicial overhaul legislation is “leading Israel to a regime coup and a severe weakening of the justice system.”

There are signs, the letter’s authors wrote to Baharav-Miara, that the government “is aiming to act right now in accordance with the coup that it aims to advance” and is already “ignoring your instructions and your position.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been forging ahead with legislation that will sharply curtail the judiciary’s ability to act as a check on government power. The proposed changes have sparked massive protests and warnings from critics that they will downgrade Israel’s democratic character.

“Government and coalition spokespeople are openly accusing the legal counsel of being politically slanted,” the letter said, addressing Baharav-Miara. “The calls for your ouster are no longer veiled and are issued explicitly, and only because you and your employees are doing your jobs and sticking to legal principles.”

Among those who put their names to the letter were former deputy attorneys general Dina Zilber, Avi Licht, and Erez Kamenitz as well as former legal advisers to the Israel Police (Res.) assistant commissioners Ayelet Elissar and Shaul Gordon.

The signatories called on current legal advisers “not to break in the face of political pressure.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Baharav-Miara has frequently found herself issuing opinions that put her at odds with the government, Israel’s most hardline to date. Her decisions have, in some cases, stymied coalition legislation or actions taken by ministers.

The attorney general has come out against the planned judicial overhaul, clashed with Netanyahu as to whether or not he can involve himself in the required legislation due to an alleged conflict of interest over his ongoing corruption trial, opposed legislation to ease donations to lawmakers, and warned that legislation that limits the circumstances under which a prime minister can be removed from office would create a “legal black hole.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu seemingly aimed criticism at Baharav-Miara when, at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, he declared that “in a functioning democracy, the elected government is responsible for the army, the police, and the other security agencies.”

“There is no one else to determine who will command these bodies, who will lead them, and how they will be led,” Netanyahu charged.

He was apparently referring to Baharav-Miara’s decision last week to order a freeze on the transfer of Tel Aviv police commander Amichai Eshed amid concerns it was politically motivated.

Hours before Netanyahu’s comments, a pause was placed on a sweeping proposal to grant legal immunity to Israeli security forces, after Baharav-Miara warned the bill would expose troops to foreign prosecution and pose grave dangers for the relationship between Israeli public and law enforcement.

Baharav-Miara stopped Eshed’s transfer amid concerns it had been instigated by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in a breach of the minister’s permitted behavior. Both Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and the police minister have insisted that the reassignment — ordered amid Ben Gvir’s criticism of Eshed’s ostensible soft policing of anti-government protesters — had been planned in advance.

A composite image of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 and Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara has had a rocky relationship with Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit. Ben Gvir has repeatedly lashed out at Baharav-Miara for her rulings and recommendations in recent months, calling her the “real prime minister” of Israel and asserting that she wants to control the government and the police.

On Saturday, Ben Gvir said “the attorney general is governing the [police] commissioner,” adding that “she is the problem.”

The next day, Ben Gvir told Baharav-Miara that he believed he could not rely on her to represent him in ongoing or pending lawsuits and appeals. He requested that he have independent legal counsel instead.

Baharav-Miara reportedly asked for clarification on his request, which requires special permission from the attorney general, but Ben Gvir instead appealed to the High Court of Justice to approve his demand.

On Tuesday, the court ruled that Ben Gvir needs to be in contact with the attorney general about the matter.

Last month, Justice Minister Yariv Levin appeared to threaten to fire Baharav-Miara in the future, as the hardline government continued to find itself clashing with its most senior legal representative.

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