AG: Office facing pressure in criminal cases, and over certain legal positions

Baharav-Miara vows to ‘continue to operate as always’; last month, ministers slammed her for alleged soft approach to protesters

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara alleged in a bombshell speech Tuesday that pressure has been exerted on her office to take specific action in criminal cases being managed by the State Attorney’s Office and in criminal investigations.

Speaking to officials in the State Attorney’s Office, Baharav-Miara further alleged that pressure has been brought to bear on her office to adopt specific positions with regard to the formal opinions taken by government legal advisers under her aegis on government legislation and decisions.

“Pressure has been exerted against us to make certain decisions in concrete cases that you are managing or in investigative cases that you are examining,” the attorney general said.

“In legal advice too, pressure has been exerted against us to slant our professional judgment and violate our duty as gatekeepers,” she added. “I will not be deterred. I know that the state attorney is not deterred either and that neither are you all. We will continue to operate as always, according to the facts, according to the law, consistently and equitably.”

She did not offer details on either allegation.

Baharav-Miara was castigated earlier this month by members of the cabinet for what they alleged was the failure of her office and other law enforcement agencies to deal severely enough with anti-government protesters over the last six months.

Border Police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, at Ben Gurion Airport, July 11, 2023 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

At the meeting, ministers called for her dismissal and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others railed against “selective enforcement,” and Baharav-Miara responded by implicitly accusing the cabinet members of attempted political interference in how law enforcement agencies manage protests against the government. The attorney general said that there could be no quotas for how many people should be arrested in protests or indicted as a result.

At the end of the cabinet meeting, Baharav-Miara was asked to submit a document to the cabinet detailing law enforcement policy toward roadblocking, protests at elected officials’ homes, and calls for refusal to serve in the military and other forms of disobedience. Her office subsequently filed a professional opinion that again, warned against trying to set any quotas for arrests or criminal prosecution of protesters.

She was also told to present a clear policy on enforcement at Ben Gurion Airport, where protesters previously disrupted operations by flooding the main terminal earlier this month. Baharav-Miara said that the airport was a public space where demonstrations were permitted and noted: “The right to demonstrate in this area will be limited only when it is deemed almost certain that there is a likelihood of severe disturbance to public order.” A subsequent protest at the airport last Tuesday saw police set up cordoned-off areas for the demonstrators, some of whom briefly blocked roads.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who was also summoned to the cabinet meeting, insisted that it was the policy of police to prevent the blocking of highways and intersections and stressed that the force was apolitical.

Israelis protest the government’s judicial overhaul outside the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Protesters on Tuesday were holding another day of mass nationwide protests, as the coalition redoubled its efforts to pass legislation that would dramatically curtail the Supreme Court’s power to review government policies and appointments.

The contentious legislation seeks to prevent the court from using the test of “reasonableness” in evaluating decisions made by the government or elected officials.

Critics say the legislation is part of the government’s attempt to shield itself and its decisions from judicial review, enabling it to appoint unqualified or corrupt officials and oust technocrats it has deemed disloyal. Supporters of the move say it is necessary to correct the overreaching of unelected judges interfering with the decisions of a democratically elected government.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: