Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Sunday he saw no reason to prevent a former general now placed no. 2 on the Labor party’s Knesset slate from running in the April 9 election.
The legal opinion came following questions about the legality of retired major general Tal Russo’s candidacy because it comes only two years after he left military service — less than the three years required by Israel’s “cooling off” law for former senior military officers.
Russo, a former head of the army’s Southern Command, was tapped in mid-February by Labor head Avi Gabbay to fill the number two slot on the party’s slate.
While Russo left active duty in 2013, he was called back in a special full-time reservist capacity to lead the newly founded Depth Corps, a position he held until 2017.
In a letter to Russo, the Labor party and Mandelblit on February 25, Central Elections Committee chair and Supreme Court justice Hanan Melcer wrote that Russo had concluded his service on May 10, 2017, and so could not run for elected office until May 2020. He gave the parties until March 3 to reply.
In his response Sunday, Mandelblit noted that Russo had officially resigned his commission in 2013, and had served afterward only as a reservist.
He noted that reserve duty was intrinsically different from a regular officer’s commission in that it was a voluntary, temporary arrangement, and not a long-term commitment to which a regular officer was legally bound. There were also differences in pay and other benefits, Mandelblit wrote.
Russo’s “cooling off” period before he could enter political office should thus be counted from his release from regular service in 2013, and not his conclusion of his reserves post in 2017.
The final arbiter on Russo’s eligibility is the Central Elections Committee, which is headed by Melcer and composed of representatives of the current parties in Israel’s Knesset. But the attorney general’s opinion in such matters usually carries a great deal of weight with the committee.
In a Monday statement, the Labor party welcomed Mandelblit’s opinion, calling it a “victory for [party leader] Gabbay,” and saying the party was “proud to have Maj. Gen. Tal Russo on the Labor party’s winning team for the coming elections.”