AG says deputy embattled after spat with minister won’t attend committee meeting

AG says deputy embattled after spat with minister won’t attend committee meeting

Dina Zilber to be barred from most Knesset discussions pending investigation, after justice minister called for her ouster

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, at the Knesset, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, at the Knesset, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Monday that his embattled deputy Dina Zilber would not participate in a scheduled committee meeting, amid a dispute between her and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Shaked last week called for Zilber to be fired for her criticism of the so-called “loyalty in culture” bill during a Knesset committee meeting. Zilber also condemned the political climate in Israel, and accused lawmakers from the right-wing coalition of seeking to minimize dissenting opinions.

Mandelblit had previously said that Zilber would not be suspended.

But on Monday, his office said that Zilber would not be joining Knesset or cabinet discussions, unless he personally approves it, until an internal investigation into her conduct is concluded. That development is expected within several days.

Zilber’s spot in Tuesday’s State Control Committee meeting will be filled instead by Dafna Gotlieb of the Justice Ministry.

The meeting — scheduled two months ago — will focus on difficulties facing the transgender community, including obstacles to changing one’s listed gender on official documents when one has not undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a conference of Hadashot News in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The committee head, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), earlier Monday requested that Mandelblit approve Zilber’s participation in the discussion, claiming that any other decision would mean that she was effectively suspended following a “summary court-martial.”

Zilber came under fire from Shaked last Tuesday, after a meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, during which she said that legislation threatening to strip state funding from cultural institutions that produce art seen as overly critical of the government or the state “poses real difficulties.”

In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Zilber’s colleagues said Shaked’s demand to have her fired was an effort to silence legitimate criticism from within the judiciary.

“The chain of events currently being discussed in the media undermines the foundation of independence the Attorney General’s Office is built on in a way that could harm our ability to do our job,” the letter said, according to Hadashot TV news.

The attorneys said the “spirit of the political discourse [where there is] a perceived subordination to the political echelon undercuts our ability to represent the professional opinions of the attorney general.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The signatories said they viewed Shaked’s demand to fire Zilber as “an attempt to deter jurists from expressing their professional option.”

Mandelblit himself last Thursday pushed back against calls for the dismissal of Zilber, saying criticism that she had politicized her role was being used to undermine his office.

“This [demand] turned into a lever that is meant to harm the institution of the attorney general,” Mandelblit was quoted as saying by the Haaretz daily at an event in Haifa marking 70 years of Israel’s legal system. “This is something I can’t agree to and I don’t think there is anyone, including the justice minister, who wants to harm it.”

During last Tuesday’s Knesset committee meeting, the parliament’s own legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, also opined that the “loyalty in culture” bill was problematic and seemed to impose restrictions on freedom of speech.

“It can be seen as seemingly part of the imposition of restrictions on freedom of expression,” Yinon said, saying the bill faces “significant constitutional hurdles.”

The legislation cleared its first reading last week with 55 lawmakers in favor and 44 opposed. It must now head to a committee before returning to the plenum for two more Knesset votes if it is to become law.

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