AG: State must explain failure to appoint Justice Ministry director

Mandelblit says he ‘believes there is no choice’ but to subpoena state representatives to explain why political disagreements have held up key appointments

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv on January 28, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv on January 28, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice on Monday that he believes the state must explain why it has so far failed to appoint a permanent director-general to the Justice Ministry.

Writing in response to a petition filed with the court over the matter, Mandelblit said that with no concrete justification given for the failure to move the process forward, he “believes there is no choice” but to subpoena state representatives to respond.

“Political disagreement must not prevent the appointment of senior officials,” he stressed.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) announced his pick for director-general months ago, but the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office has so far refused to bring the matter to a cabinet vote, amid ongoing coalition infighting between Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Mandelblit wrote to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who leads Blue and White, to request that they remove any opposition to filling several key public service positions currently without permanent office holders.

“I ask you to act without delay in accordance with your powers under the law to promote permanent appointments to senior positions in the civil service,” Mandelblit wrote to the premier and defense minister.

“In the six months that have passed since the government was formed, many positions have been staffed by way of temporary appointment,” he continued.

In the government coalition agreement, Likud and Blue and White agreed to put off any senior nominations that they were likely to clash over. However, at the start of October, Gantz said it was time to end the “chaos” in the government and fill senior law enforcement posts that have long been manned by temporary appointments.

Israel has been without a permanent state attorney since December 2019, with the end of Shai Nitzan’s term. Mandelblit has been serving as acting state attorney in recent months.

Similarly, the Israel Police has been without a commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich’s term ended. Alsheich was a key figure in the Netanyahu probes and thus reviled by the prime minister and Likud as one of the figures the premier claims was involved in an attempted coup against him. Motti Cohen has been acting police chief since Alsheich’s departure and has had his tenure extended several times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Responding to Mandelblit’s Monday letter, Blue and White said that Gantz had instructed Nissenkorn “to speed up the process of appointing a state attorney and bring it to the government for approval as soon as possible.”

Gantz also called on Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, of Likud, to appoint a police commissioner immediately.

“The country now needs stability and full functioning. Appointments must not be delayed in a way that harms the citizens of Israel,” Gantz said.

Last month, reversing a previous decision that no committee can currently be formed to name a state attorney due to bureaucratic difficulties, Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz said that due to its importance, the process of finding someone to fill the key post would begin immediately.

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