AG censures ‘harmful’ proposal to let ministers appoint own legal advisers

Avichai Mandelblit says bill by justice minister will politicize the post and damage democracy; Shaked contends it is the right move

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (C), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attend a committee meeting at the Knesset on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (C), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attend a committee meeting at the Knesset on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday openly quarreled with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked during a Knesset committee meeting on a bill that would allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, calling it a “very bad” proposal.

Mandelblit, as well as other officials who oppose Shaked’s legislation, argued that letting ministers appoint legal advisers — instead of the current system of election through public tender — would politicize the position and harm the integrity of Israeli democracy’s “gatekeepers.”

During the discussion at the parliament’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Mandelblit highlighted the significance of “separating the decision-makers and the public servants in ministries…The public service is characterized by the fact that its apolitical and professional.”

Mandelblit has previously decried the “attack” on Israel’s legal system, as lawmakers have sought to advance legislation curbing the Supreme Court’s authority and the investigatory powers of police.

“It is my duty to warn you if the rule of law could be harmed,” Mandelblit contended, explaining that it would be “clear” to those running for the job that “confronting a minister will end their chance of being selected, because of course a minister won’t want to work with an adviser who tells him [something is] not okay. The damage will be great.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But Shaked contended that the appointments would still be professional. “Ministers and ministry director generals know how to choose legal advisers no less than commission members. An adviser picked by the minister will be no less brave and professional than an adviser picked in a tender.”

“I look toward the appointment of legal advisers who view the job as I defined it — implementing the minister’s policy, rather than their own policy,” the minister said.

“It is right for the minister to be involved in the appointment. I don’t think ministers should be covertly influencing a tender,” she added, apparently implying that has happened in the past.

Former attorney general Prof. Yitzhak Zamir told the committee that “there is great danger in this proposal. As someone who is knowledgeable on this subject I implore you, for the sake of Israel as a state of law, don’t advance this proposal.”

Speaking last month at an Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat, Mandelblit said there were efforts of late to undermine the legal system’s independence and the public’s trust.

“This attack was intended to harm the two basic principles for the proper functioning of the law enforcement system,” Mandelblit said. “Attempts to weaken the Supreme Court and law enforcement bodies will lead to a weakening of the rule of law in the state.”

“A series of private members bills” have been initiated, he lamented, referring to bills submitted by Likud and Jewish Home MKs, “which stray into the realm of law enforcement’s considerations and areas of responsibility.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a July 2015 cabinet meeting, when Mandelblit was serving as cabinet secretary. (Emil Salman/Pool)

One of the bills targeted by the attorney general was a legislative effort led by Shaked to allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court when a bill is declared unconstitutional.

Mandelblit has also defended work being done by police and prosecutors in cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the cases have progressed, the premier and his political allies have increasingly struck out at law enforcement, branding the investigations a politically motivated “witch hunt” meant to remove him from power.

Mandelblit, meanwhile, has come under public pressure to push for an indictment, with some charging that he is protecting Netanyahu, his former boss.

In February, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery charges in a pair of corruption probes. He is being investigated in a third.

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