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Gantz appoints interim state prosecutor after permanent appointment held up

Acting justice minister moves forward with Amit Aisman ‘so he can start working’ despite candidate’s past sexually explicit comments

Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman. (Justice Ministry)
Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman. (Justice Ministry)

Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz appointed controversial Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman as interim state prosecutor on Wednesday, despite the latter’s past sexually explicit comments to subordinates, as the position remained without a permanent appointee.

Aisman was chosen last month by a selection committee as the next state prosecutor and was backed by then-justice minister Avi Nissenkorn, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up the approval of the nomination in the cabinet. In its recommendation, the five-member committee chaired by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that Aisman, who beat out nine other candidates, came highly recommended by senior figures in the justice system.

Gantz stated he decided to tap Aisman as an interim state prosecutor until a permanent candidate was approved. The position has been vacant since Shai Nitzan ended his term in December 2019. Mandelblit has been serving as acting state prosecutor in the meantime.

Apparently persuaded that past sexually explicit comments by Aisman should not hold up his nomination, Gantz said: “The fact that there is no state prosecutor is a stain on the government and its leader. Therefore, until we bring the permanent nomination to the cabinet, I have decided to appoint attorney Aisman as the interim [state prosecutor] so he can start working.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Pool/AFP)

Aisman apologized last month for offensive remarks he made in the past, saying they do not reflect his 30-year career in public service.

The issue centers on two incidents, one 12 years ago and the other approximately six years ago, in which Aisman made sexually explicit remarks to subordinates. In 2018 then director-general of the Justice Ministry Emi Palmor ruled that though inappropriate for a civil servant, the comments did not constitute sexual harassment. Aisman was instead issued a warning as part of internal disciplinary proceedings.

“As someone who has been a public servant for about 30 years. I believe my duty goes beyond accepting responsibility and requires public accountability, alongside a public and direct apology for the crude remarks, which don’t characterize my conduct and my moral belief, which highlights unwavering upholding of human dignity,” Aisman wrote.

Aisman was part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the cases against the prime minister, and was reportedly also the preferred choice of the previous state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, who recommended that Netanyahu be charged.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum, August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

In negotiations between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White before the government collapsed last month, the prime minister’s demands to stave off the collapse of the government reportedly included the selection of a new state prosecutor, even though Aisman has already been nominated.

Disarray within the coalition has also thwarted the permanent appointments for police and prison service chiefs, even after they had been agreed upon.

The Israel Police has been without a permanent commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich’s term ended. Around the same time, new elections were called, leading to an extended period of instability that saw three elections over the course of a year. As the government during this time was a caretaker-transitional one, it could not appoint a police chief.

Israel has had a permanent coalition since May.

Interim police chief Kobi Shabtai and prisons head Katy Perry will now serve in a temporary capacity until they are fully ratified in the posts, or until other candidates are chosen. Their appointments are currently in effect till June 30, 2021.

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