Attorney general tells justice minister: ‘Threats of dismissal won’t deter me’

Gali Baharav-Miara vows to keep holding coalition to account if it acts against the law, rejects Levin’s allegations of leaving government without legal representation

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In a strongly worded missive Thursday to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the specter of dismissal would not deter her from opposing government actions and policies she believes to be unlawful.

Baharav-Miara wrote the letter in response to a broadside against her by Levin the previous day. In it, she insisted she had an obligation to tell the government when its actions are not commensurate with the law, and rejected criticism that her frequent opposition to government policies and legislation had left it without legal representation.

Levin on Wednesday blasted the attorney general for what he said was her refusal to fairly and adequately represent him in petitions to the High Court of Justice — including on a case against his refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee — as well as her frequent opposition to government legislation and policies.

Levin alleged that the attorney general’s actions had created a situation in which the government has effectively no representation in the High Court and where there was no basic working relationship between the government and the attorney general.

This was interpreted by several opposition MKs and watchdog groups as the minister laying the groundwork for Baharav-Miara’s potential dismissal. Several ministers have called to fire Baharav-Miara, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted this is not on the table.

In her response Thursday, Baharav-Miara said: “Baseless claims designed to create the impression of a lack of cooperation, or baseless accusations that the current government receives different treatment than the previous one, including threats of dismissal heard through the media, will not deter me or my staff from continuing to fulfill our task.”

The government resolution governing how an attorney general can be dismissed states that the primary cause for such action is “the existence of substantive and ongoing disagreements between the government and the attorney general which create a situation which prevents effective cooperation.”

Baharav-Miara wrote to the minister: “It is the professional obligation of the Attorney General’s Office to warn the government, any government, of steps which contravene the law.”

Left: Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Right: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

“In instances where the government acts without authority or challenges proper procedures; advances laws for a single person’s benefit while harming the rule of law and ethical standards in public service; takes decisions which have a broad impact on the general public or individual rights without an evidentiary basis; or declines to exercise its authority for the good of the public interest, without presenting relevant justifications — the Attorney General’s Office is obligated to stand up to these failings.

“That is the job of the Attorney General’s Office in the state of Israel.”

She went on: “The Attorney General’s Office under my leadership will continue to fulfill its role to assist the government in achieving its policies within the boundaries of the law, and will formulate as far as is possible lawful, legal solutions to advance the government’s work even when legal difficulties arise.”

Baharav-Miara also rejected Levin’s allegation that the government did not have legal representation due to her opposition to some of its policies, stating that the opposite was true, since it was the attorney general’s job to advise the government when it acts outside the boundaries of the law, and assists, not hinders, the government in doing so.

She insisted that her office had offered sound advice to the government on several contentious issues brought before it and had tried to find practical solutions that were commensurate with the law and answered the government’s needs.

She has also enabled the government to receive outside representation when she said she could not defend certain policies.

Specifically, Baharav-Miara insisted that she had sought to cooperate with the government on the state’s response to High Court petitions against Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.

The Judicial Selection Committee during the 34th government of Israel convenes, with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked together with then-Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, then-finance minister Moshe Kahlon and other members of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee, February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Baharav-Miara rejected Levin’s allegations that she had not properly consulted with him regarding the formulation of the response to the petitions, pointing out that she had met with him earlier this month while asserting that he had failed to provide his input on a recent draft sent to him in a timely manner. She noted that she had on a subsequent occasion met with him to point out the legal difficulties with his position.

“The expectation that the Attorney General’s Office will transgress its role and avoid oversight of the executive branch to its satisfaction, will mute its voice on petitions to the High Court of Justice, or will be deterred from serving as a gatekeeper, is an illegitimate expectation,” continued the attorney general.

“Doing so would severely harm the rule of law, the proper functioning of government, and in practice the public,” she concluded.

Sources close to Levin, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in response that the justice minister had not threatened Baharav-Miara with dismissal, and said that her letter had not explained the discrepancy between her attitude toward the policies of the last government and the current one.

“The attorney general opposes almost everything the government tries to advance. For eight months the minister has been waiting to receive a draft law for [his] judicial reform, but she is not willing [to accept] even one small line of the proposals he wants to advance,” the source added.

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