The High Court of Justice on Wednesday blocked Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s appointment of his friend Ophir Cohen as director general of the ministry.
The ruling came just under a month after Ohana, who assumed the post in June in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government, abruptly fired Emi Palmor, who held the position of director general under his predecessors.
Palmor had previously served under both the right-wing Ayelet Shaked and left-leaning Tzipi Livni. The move came as a shock to many in the judiciary, as there had been no prior warning and no explanation was publicly given.
The court’s decision came several days after it issued a temporary freeze on the appointment to hear a petition from the Movement for Quality Government organization.
“Removing a director general during an election campaign and appointing another from outside the civil service directly contradicts the guidelines of the attorney general, and stands in direct opposition to the explicit ruling of the Supreme Court,” Justice Menachem Mazuz said during Wednesday’s debate on the petition against the appointment, referring to legal opinions on the powers of a transitional government.
Cohen’s appointment was approved by Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz earlier this month, and by the Civil Service Commission’s senior appointments committee on Sunday. The commission accepted Ohana’s argument that he could not find a better candidate within the ministry, and that Cohen met the minimum qualifications required for the post.
Ohana defended the appointment on Sunday, saying Cohen “is among the most worthy appointees in the entire government. This is a person who gave his best years to Israel’s security and carries the heavy cost of that sacrifice on his body. He has appropriate legal and managerial skills, as the committee for senior appointments in the Civil Service Commission has confirmed after examining his appointment closely. I hope and believe that the High Court will conclude the same.”
Cohen, 43, a colonel in the IDF reserves and former infantry battalion commander, is a real estate and tax attorney who knows Ohana from their military service together. He helped found and lead a nonprofit advocacy group for the rights of reserve soldiers.
Critics have noted he has no managerial experience in large organizations, and almost no experience in the public sector.
In a statement earlier this month, the Movement for Quality Government called Hershkowitz’s approval of the appointment “a very precarious and dangerous decision…which creates an opening to make far-reaching moves in government ministries during a caretaker government.”
Ohana explained Palmor’s firing by saying it was accepted practice for a new minister to appoint their own director general. However, it is rare for a minister serving in a caretaker government to do so. Ohana is only expected to fill the position for several months, until the next coalition is formed after the September 17 elections.