Newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara officially took up her post on Tuesday, following unanimous cabinet confirmation of her appointment.
The 62-year-old former Tel Aviv district attorney for civil affairs is the first woman to take up the top justice role.
Outgoing attorney general Avichai Mandelblit stepped down upon completion of his six-year term on January 31, and State Attorney Amit Aisman had been filling in.
Baharav-Miara enters office amid spiking confusion and outrage over alleged illicit police use of spyware against both suspects and non-suspects, including persons of interest in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a decline in public trust in the justice system.
“I intend to put the issue of public trust in the legal system at the top of my priorities,” she said at a welcoming ceremony in Jerusalem. “In recent days, there has been a worrying decline in public confidence in public legal advice and law enforcement systems… Various reasons for this come to mind, including the impact of external events and attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement. But it is wrong to attribute the decline in public confidence in the attorney general solely to external parties.”
Commenting on the spyware allegations, Baharav-Miara said that “naturally, one of the first issues I will address is the allegations about the measures used by the Israel Police. ”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implied on Monday that Baharav-Miara would take over an investigation into the affair.
“I would say it’s an advantage that she is not from the establishment,” he said. “We will sit and discuss, we will understand the situation and we will not leave the public without an answer. We understand the severity of the matter.”
“This is a day of a new beginning and such a day is always optimistic,” Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was the main backer of Baharav-Miara’s appointment, said at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“A new beginning is being made upon the glorious foundations of this institution, the office of the attorney general, which has made a historic contribution to instilling the values of the rule of law in the public service in the State of Israel.”
Sa’ar went on to note, though, that the new beginning entailed a course correction that would be carried out “together, responsibly, with discretion.”
Sa’ar has expressed his intention to split the role of the attorney general, who currently serves as both legal adviser to the government and as the state’s chief prosecutor, meaning the same person can be tasked both with overseeing the prosecution of members of the government and with defending their moves — a situation some argue creates a conflict of interest. Mandelblit had opposed such a split, but Baharav-Miara is reportedly amenable to it.
In his remarks, the justice minister described the role of the attorney general as “the most difficult and challenging in the public service.”
He wished Baharav-Miara success, calling her a “consummate professional” with decades of experience in public legal service, and in particular representing the state in the courts.
The new attorney general will have several high-profile cases to deal with. These include the whereabouts of state gifts given to Benjamin Netanyahu that the former premier was ordered to return, a gift of $20,000 that an Australian billionaire gave to ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, and the alleged harassment of state’s witness Shlomo Filber by two Netanyahu aides.
She will also have to determine whether and how to proceed with negotiations on a plea bargain for Netanyahu, who is on trial in three graft cases and whose lawyers negotiated with Mandelblit, reportedly coming close to a deal, in recent weeks.