Mandelblit cites legal obstacles over emerging coalition

Attorney general, acting state attorney in unprecedented clash

Opposing extending Dan Eldad’s tenure, Mandelblit says he failed ‘morally, administratively, professionally’; Eldad says it’s because he’s probing ‘worrying’ information about AG

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right) and Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (Justice Ministry / Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right) and Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (Justice Ministry / Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad engaged in an astonishing war of words Thursday, with Mandelblit saying Eldad had exhibited “moral, professional and administrative failings” during his short time in office, and the latter claiming he was under attack for investigating “worrying” information about his boss.

Mandelblit’s comments were made in a letter to Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz in which he expressed vehement opposition to extending Eldad’s tenure, explaining he found him unfit for the office and citing legal impediments.

Eldad was appointed to the position for a temporary three-month period in February by interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana, after former state attorney Shai Nitzan concluded his five-year term in December and after Ohana’s previous candidate was rejected by Mandelblit.

Mandelblit also initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, which Ohana made in spite of his reservations, but eventually agreed to it.

Eldad’s appointment is to expire on May 1, but Ohana earlier this month asked Hershkowitz to extend it by an additional three months since a new government has not yet been formed.

Mandelblit, in the missive to Hershkowitz, said he felt his initial instincts on Eldad had been correct, commenting that “unfortunately my initial position… was only strengthened in light of his conduct.”

Mandelblit said Eldad, during his two months in office, “concealed from me professional and managerial matters he was involved in, as well as meetings he held with the justice minister, despite the fact that I had instructed him to fully update me on such matters — stressing the importance of the independence of the state prosecution and the complicated nature of the relations between the acting state attorney and the political official holding the power to extend his term.”

Even so, he said, Eldad had given him only partial and sometimes false reports when explicitly asked on the matters he had discussed with Ohana.

Mandelblit went on to say Eldad did not enjoy the trust of top prosecutors. There was a complete disconnect between Eldad and senior prosecution officials, with the former excluding professionals from deliberations in their areas of expertise while focusing on “odd” priorities, leading to paralysis at the top of the system, he stated.

“Eldad’s conduct as acting state attorney is morally, administratively and professionally lacking in a manner that harms the work of the state prosecution,” he said.

Mandelblit also noted that in light of the new coalition deal between the Likud and Blue and White parties, which will see a new justice minister appointed within days, it is legally problematic for Ohana to make the choice to extend Eldad’s tenure while the decision should be that of the incoming justice minister — likely Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn.

In response, Eldad said Mandelblit’s criticism of him was “unfounded” and claimed the attorney general was reacting to “worrying” information Eldad had unearthed about him.

Ahead of the Passover holiday, Eldad said, he had received a query from a journalist about the handling of a past investigation into Mandelblit that had been closed (Channel 13 has since confirmed it had requested information regarding the circumstances of the case’s closure).

“To respond to the query, I requested to review the existing material on the matter at the State Attorney’s Office. The material formed a seemingly worrying picture regarding the handling of Mandelblit’s affairs,” Eldad said. “I updated the relevant parties on my intention to investigate the matter further before I responded.”

He added he had “no doubt” that this was the reason for the “violent and distorted” wording of Mandelblit’s statement.

“From day one… Avichai Mandelblit did everything possible to sabotage my work and interfere with my proper conduct.”

Ohana also issued a response, saying: “I have not met many attorneys as honest, decent, moral and professional as Dan Eldad… The justice system is insisting on destroying what little public trust it still enjoys.”

Eldad had previously served as the director of the Economic Crimes Division of the State Prosecution, which specializes in investigating and prosecuting high-level corruption in government and large corporations. It is also responsible for the most complex cases of financial fraud.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mandelblit in January was reported to have offered Ohana seven names of candidates acceptable to him, which did not include Eldad, but Ohana chose Eldad anyway.

Mandelblit has insisted Ohana’s authority to appoint key officials is limited because he serves as a caretaker justice minister in an unelected government. Ohana was appointed to his post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last June, after the indecisive April election and ahead of the equally indecisive September race.

Ohana, meanwhile, has insisted that Mandelblit’s opposition to his appointments was an example of the runaway powers of the state legal bureaucracy, which he says should not flout the will of elected officials.

Ohana first sought to appoint Tel Aviv District economic crimes prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari to the post in December, but she withdrew her candidacy following a firestorm of criticism at her selection, including from the attorney general.

In February law enforcement and state prosecution severely criticized Eldad over a swift decision to order a criminal probe into a cybersecurity firm that was once headed by Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz.

Speaking to Hebrew media anonymously, one official accused Eldad of being a “Trojan horse” and another said he was a lackey of the ruling Likud party.

In March Mandelblit upbraided Ohana for his ongoing attacks on the justice system and his efforts to discredit its decisions since taking office, saying the minister’s attacks were baseless and politically motivated.

Since Ohana’s appointment, he and Mandelblit have repeatedly clashed over their respective roles in the justice system, with Ohana seeking to assert more control and relentlessly attacking the legitimacy of Netanyahu’s criminal cases.

Ohana, a loyalist of Netanyahu, just after entering office launching a scathing diatribe against the state prosecution and in defense of the premier, who has been charged by Mandelblit with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases.

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