Digging in heels, justice minister dismisses AG rejection of state attorney pick

Amir Ohana calls Avichai Mandelblit’s legal opinion casting doubt on his authority to make appointment ‘extremely unreasonable,’ suggests he’s ready for court battle

Justice Minister Amir Ohana (R) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a ceremony marking the former's appointment to the position, at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Amir Ohana (R) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a ceremony marking the former's appointment to the position, at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana dismissed criticism from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over his pick Tuesday for interim state prosecutor, setting up a possible courtroom clash over the appointment.

Mandelblit said earlier there was a “legal impediment” to Ohana’s pick of Central District deputy prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari as interim state prosecutor, arguing it was beyond the scope of what is permissible for an acting minister in a transitional government and thus “unreasonable.”

The attorney general had reportedly rejected most candidates put forward by Ohana, including Ginsberg Ben-Ari, only giving approval to Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Matters Shlomo Lemberger to fill in for Shai Nitzan, whose six-year term as state prosecutor ended Monday.

“According to Mandelblit’s opinion, in the entire prosecution, with all of its prosecutors, there is only one special candidate who can fill in as state attorney — this is absurd,” Ohana said in an interview with Channel 12 news.

“I consulted with him more than once or twice. His opinion is extremely unreasonable,” he added.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana (L) with his candidate for interim state attorney Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari, December 17, 2019. (Justice Ministry)

Ohana stressed he was not seeking a face-off with Mandelblit and had tried to win the attorney general’s backing for his appointee.

“It will be a mistake if the attorney general doesn’t change his opinion,” he said.

The justice minister also indicated he was prepared to defend the appointment if it is appealed to the High Court of Justice.

“I don’t intend to bow my head to someone who is not authorized to decide on this appointment,” Ohana said.

Mandelblit has said in closed meetings that he would strongly oppose any appointment by Ohana that is unacceptable to him, and that he may take the matter to the High Court, Hebrew-language news outlets reported.

The appointment has been overshadowed by the corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were formulated by Nitzan and announced recently by Mandelblit, which led Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist, to launch a scathing attack on the State Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement bodies, accusing them of a conspiracy to topple the prime minister with false corruption charges.

In a letter sent to Ohana Tuesday, Mandelblit wrote that the appointment was so problematic that there was a “legal impediment” to approving it, meaning it could be struck down by a court.

He cited the fact that Ohana, as acting justice minister in a caretaker government that does not have the confidence of the Knesset, was not legally allowed to make far-reaching decisions like the appointment of a junior official to a senior post.

Mandelblit later met with Ginsberg Ben-Ari and said his opposition to the appointment was not personal, Channel 13 news reported.

“This isn’t a personal matter against you, but rather a matter of the [legal] system,” the report quoted him as saying.

The network also said unnamed members of the State Attorney’s Office were pressing Ginsberg Ben-Ari to withdraw her candidacy.

She was rejected by three different panels for the more senior position of district prosecutor because she was found to be unfit for the post, according to Channel 12 news Tuesday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Earlier Tuesday, Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz warned that the appointment could hamper the work of the state prosecution.

Ohana on Monday brushed aside a demand by Hershkowitz that he be consulted over the appointment of an acting state attorney.

The move comes amid a current political stalemate, which has left Israel without a properly elected government for nearly a year and with Ohana himself serving only in an interim capacity. Two rounds of elections in April and September failed to produce a ruling coalition or unity government. The Knesset dissolved again last week and third elections are set for March 2, 2020.

Normally, a new state attorney is selected by a special committee appointed by the justice minister and headed by the attorney general, the direct superior of the state prosecutor. The attorney general is usually given freedom to choose the candidate. But Mandelblit has said that since Ohana is only serving in a caretaker government he does not have the authority to form the committee. Instead, Ohana is only authorized to appoint an acting state attorney whose tenure must be extended every three months.

Ginsberg Ben-Ari has worked in the State Prosecutor’s Office for 28 years in a number of senior positions. She has extensive experience in the criminal and security fields and currently serves as head of the State Prosecutor’s Security Forum.

Most Popular
read more: