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AG tells government to immediately fill senior law enforcement, legal posts

Mandelblit laments need for High Court to order Netanyahu, Gantz to appoint a police chief and Justice Ministry director; says PM can’t be involved due to conflict of interest

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to fill a number of senior law enforcement and legal positions, which have remained without permanent appointees amid coalition infighting.

In a letter dated Friday, Mandelblit highlighted recent orders by the High Court of Justice for the government to appoint a new police commissioner and director-general of the Justice Ministry, which have been held up despite the cabinet’s approval of a new accountant general at the Finance Ministry and a director-general at the office of the alternate prime minister.

“This undesirable situation, in which the court is required to obligate the government with a judicial order, at a time when the government is refraining from exercising its powers in contravention to what is required by law, according to the interpretation of the attorney general, is regrettable,” Mandelblit wrote.

He added: “The aforementioned conduct undermines key principles in the government’s work, including the principle of governance.”

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset during a vote for the parliament to dissolve itself, on December 2, 2020. (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)

Mandelblit noted that in its decision Thursday to order the government to appoint a director-general of the Justice Ministry, the High Court backed his position that coalition wrangling doesn’t override the duty of the government and other relevant bodies to fill senior positions with permanent appointments.

“I again turn to you so you will act as soon as possible to complete the appointment procedures of senior positions in the public service at the proper speed,” he said.

Mandelblit said Netanyahu must hand over his powers to another minister “in relation to the appointments he is forbidden from engaging in,” referring to a conflict of interest arrangement that bars the premier from appointing top law enforcement officials in light of his indictment on graft charges.

The attorney general says the arrangement does not require the approval of the premier, who has been battling with the attorney general for months and demanding to be involved in the appointment of the attorney general’s successor and other top legal officials. Netanyahu’s lawyers counter that the attorney general does not have the authority to enforce the conflict of interest agreement without the agreement of the prime minister. The High Court last month instructed Netanyahu’s lawyers to explain his claim that the agreement is not obligatory.

A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

In his letter, Mandelblit urged Netanyahu and Gantz to swiftly reply, noting a Thursday deadline for the government to tell the High Court by what date it would complete the appointments.

As part of their 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 stopgap appointments.

The country has been without a permanent state prosecutor for nearly a year and without a permanent police commissioner for nearly two.

Netanyahu has issued a de facto freeze on all appointments of senior officials in Blue and White-controlled ministries — especially the Justice Ministry. Unity government partners Blue and White have responded by refusing to allow votes on appointments in Likud-led ministries such as health and finance.

The unity government between Likud and Blue and White, which has limped along amid in-fighting since it was formed, has come to a head in another dispute that has prevented the passing of a state budget. As a result, the country is widely believed to be heading for its fourth election in two years.

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