AG joins Supreme Court president in harsh criticism of new justice minister

After Amir Ohana suggests not all court verdicts should be honored, Avichai Mandelblit says accepting decisions is ‘axiomatic’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday joined the criticism of newly installed Justice Minister Amir Ohana, stressing that obeying court decisions is not a matter of choice.

Mandelblit was following Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut in taking Ohana to task for suggesting during a television interview that not all of the court’s rulings should be honored.

“In Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state founded on the principle of the rule of law, the duty to obey court rulings is axiomatic, serving as a guarantee for the protection of the rights of every citizen in the state,” Mandelblit said in a statement. “It is not a matter of choice. This is a duty incumbent upon every citizen and every governmental authority, whatever it may be.”

The attorney general also rejected Ohana’s claim during the interview that state prosecutors could try to bring false criminal accusation against him for political reasons.

“For law enforcement authorities and the state prosecution — headed by the attorney general and the state attorney — there are only practical and professional considerations,” he declared. “The decisions are made only on the basis of evidence and the provisions of the law, and not, God forbid, any extraneous considerations.”

“Law enforcement officials are devoted public servants who work day and night to protect the citizens of the state, their security, their property, and their welfare,” wrote Mandelblit, whose office in the Justice Ministry lies just meters from Ohana’s.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut attends the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, on Israel’s 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier Thursday, Hayut accused Ohana of leading the country to “anarchy” with his suggestion that not all of the court’s rulings should be honored.

“I take an extremely dim view of a justice minister in the State of Israel, on the day he is sworn in, choosing to share with us an unprecedented and irresponsible judicial worldview according to which not all rulings handed down by courts should be honored,” Hayut declared in a speech at an educational event for court presidents and vice presidents in Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha, west of Jerusalem.

“In other words, any litigant can from now on — with the justice minister’s blessing — choose which verdict needs to be obeyed and which does not,” she added. “With that worldview, the path to anarchy, in which everyone does what they feel like, is short.”

Ohana, who was appointed last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to head the ministry until the September elections, made his controversial assertion during a Wednesday interview with Channel 12 news, after being sworn in to the post earlier in the day.

Ohana, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the courts, gave an example of a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that he claimed should not have been followed, in which he said the court refused to allow the military to destroy several Palestinian buildings along the Kissufim route in the Gaza Strip.

Terrorists then used the building as cover to murder pregnant Israeli woman Tali Hatuel and her four daughters.

Ohana was asked whether, in certain situations, High Court decisions should therefore not be followed. “The ultimate consideration has to be preserving citizens’ lives, yes,” he replied.

Amir Ohana, newly appointed Israeli Justice Minister seen during his swearing in ceremony at the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ohana also said he was preparing for the possibility that state prosecutors would falsely accuse him of crimes within the framework of his position as justice minister. He told Channel 12 that he had been warned by acquaintances of just such a scenario.

“I mentally prepare for this,” he said. “I hope it will not happen. To a certain extent, I believe it will not happen. I take it as an option. I host this as an option but I think this is unlikely.”

Ohana added, “We do not always have to assume that there are white angels sitting in the system who make their decisions for professional reasons only.”

Later on Wednesday, Ohana issued a statement clarifying that the government must respect High Court rulings.

“I gave an example of an extreme case that happened in reality,” said Ohana in his clarification statement. “We are not talking about regular (court) decisions, and we are not talking about decisions that I happen to disagree with. I was talking about the most extreme instances, where a black flag flies over them, and they could cost lives.”

Mourners attend the funerals of Tali Hatuel, 34, who was eight months pregnant and her four daughters, aged two to 11, at the Ashkelon cemetery on Sunday, May 2, 2004. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“But even the obvious has to be said: We need to respect the decisions of the courts. This is what I have always done and this is what I believe,” he said. “Israel is a democracy that upholds the rule of law and it will stay that way.”

Ohana is among the only senior members of Likud to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution in the cases against him. Netanyahu appointed him to the Justice Ministry post as a placeholder, after firing the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked last week.

Earlier this year, Ohana struck out at legal authorities over the Netanyahu investigations, charging that judicial officials, who have announced their intention to charge the prime minister pending a hearing, were usurping the will of the Israeli voters.

Netanyahu is suspected of corruption — including one count of bribery — in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

The prime minister has long accused police, the media, judicial officials and the political left of conducting a witch hunt against him, and has denied any wrongdoing.

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