New justice minister says he’ll be judges’ ‘shield,’ as predecessor urges reform
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New justice minister says he’ll be judges’ ‘shield,’ as predecessor urges reform

Avi Nissenkorn hails judicial system as vital for democracy, while outgoing minister Ohana continues to feud with attorney general, even during passing of baton

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Incoming Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White party on Monday vowed to be a “shield” for the justice system, as he sought to make a sharp break from the approach of his contentious predecessor, Likud’s Amir Ohana.

“The Justice Ministry is the shield that defends democracy and today needs protecting. I’ll be the one to protect it,” Nissenkorn said at the passing of the baton ceremony at the ministry in Jerusalem. “I am here today to say that, from now on, I will be your shield,” he vowed.

“You will receive all the necessary protection so that you can carry out your public mission professionally and without fear.”

Nissenkorn, a former head of the Histadrut labor federation, said that while criticism of the justice system “is not only legitimate but reasonable,” it doesn’t provide carte blanche for “delegitimization.”

“The fact that law enforcement officials need to go around with bodyguards is unforgivable,” he stated.

Ohana, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has served as the interim justice minister since June of last year. During his tenure, he repeatedly attacked the justice system and those leading it, as they pushed forward with criminal investigations, and eventually an indictment, of the premier.

During Monday’s ceremony, Ohana and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit took parting shots at one another.

Outgoing justice minister Amir Ohana and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit share an elbow bump during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“I leave my role today with mixed feelings,” said Ohana, who is moving on to the Public Security Ministry and will be in charge of police.

“The issues many warned about before me and which I have warned about have not been fixed. The much needed reform of the prosecution and the State Attorney’s Office didn’t happen, because the system, today no less than in the past, is calibrated to protect its power more than it is calibrated to protect the public’s trust in it.”

He added: “This to me is very unfortunate, but I know the day will come — and I hope it won’t grow out of a deep crisis — that things will look different.”

Mandelblit, in his speech, decried “false claims” against prosecutors, in apparent reference to scathing attacks by Netanyahu supporters.

“You are facing many challenges and we’re here to help you. We have one path, the path of law and justice,” Mandelblit said, addressing Nissenkorn. “Even when the winds outside are stormy, even when they try to divert us from our path, raising false claims and trying to harm our work, we will continue walking this path without fear.”

He also addressed Ohana, wishing him luck as public security minister: “It’s no secret there were disputes between us, but alongside them, there was good and important joint work.”

Outgoing justice minister Amir Ohana and new Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Netanyahu’s trial was pushed off, two days before the scheduled March 17 opening hearing, by two months until May 24, after Ohana declared a “state of emergency” in the court system, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, Ohana launched an attack against Mandelblit and called for an investigation into former state attorney Shai Nitzan, who led the probes into Netanyahu. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman last week turned down Ohana’s request for the probe.

Mandelblit on Wednesday filed a complaint with police after receiving death threats and other harassing messages by unknown parties.

Mandelblit has come under fire in recent months from supporters of the prime minister over his filing of the indictments last year, which Netanyahu has decried as an “attempted coup,” orchestrated by the media, the opposition, the police and the state prosecution hierarchy, led by Mandelblit.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Ohana has been seen by critics as Netanyahu’s attack dog against the justice system, as it moved forward with charges against him. He often sparred with Mandelblit over their respective powers.

The two fought over Ohana’s appointment of acting state attorney Dan Eldad earlier this year. Mandelblit eventually accepted Eldad, but later excoriated him as unfit for the role and implied he had cooperated with Ohana to undermine the system. He was reportedly convinced that Eldad and Ohana were bent on ousting him from his post, possibly at the behest of Netanyahu.

Ohana and Mandelblit fought again earlier this month after the High Court of Justice froze Ohana’s move to extend Eldad’s term by another three months. Mandelblit said he would assume Eldad’s responsibilities until a new government was formed and a permanent appointment was made. Ohana responded that he did not have the authority to do so.

Instead, Ohana said, the Justice Ministry’s acting Director General Sigal Jacoby should fill the role in the interim instead.

With Nissenkorn entering the post, it is not yet clear who will fill the role until a permanent appointment is made.

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