High Court ruling may delay imminent choice of next heads of IDF, police

In Thursday decision, justices freezes work of appointments committee over concerns that half its members are too close to Netanyahu

Then Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony welcoming Alsheich to the job, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony welcoming Alsheich to the job, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Thursday decision by the High Court of Justice could lead to the resignation of half of the state committee that advises on the ethical suitability of appointees to the most senior positions in the public service, and in the process delay the appointments of new heads to the Israel Police and the IDF, which are expected to take place within the next few months.

The court ordered a freeze to all proceedings of the Goldberg Committee and gave the state a month to explain why it believed the appointment of two of the committee’s four members was appropriate.

The Goldberg Committee is headed by Eliezer Goldberg, a former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller, and includes the current head of the Civil Service Commission and two individuals appointed as representatives of the public.

The hearing Thursday concerned the latter two, whose appointments have been challenged in court.

The first is former national security adviser Yaakov Nagel, a retired brigadier general who served as head of the National Security Council under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until March 2017.

Former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg in February 2013. (Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)

In the appeal against Nagel’s appointment to the Goldberg Committee, the Movement for Integrity watchdog group insisted that Nagel could not represent the public interest on the committee because he is too close to Netanyahu and has continued to advise the government since leaving his NSC post.

The appeal also targets committee member Iris Shtark, a prominent accountant who was elected head of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel – the accounting profession’s parallel to the Bar Association – by the nation’s 12,000 accountants on Wednesday.

Shtark is accused of being active politically, and is thought to be close to top ministers, including Netanyahu, according to the appeal.

The High Court on Thursday seemed ready to accept this rationale, especially in light of Netanyahu’s current legal troubles.

Justice Menachem Mazuz expressed concern that if the public representatives were effectively representatives of the prime minister, Netanyahu could influence the selection of the next police chief in order to influence the outcome of investigations into his affairs.

A view of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem (Flash90)

“Since the prime minister may have a [personal] interest in the identity of the next [police] commissioner, he is forbidden from taking part in the process of selecting the committee that must approve the appointment,” Mazuz wrote.

He suggested that Nagel’s appointment may not satisfy that requirement for distance between the premier and the appointment process. “The NSC head works closely and constantly with the prime minister. If that was the only issue, this would be a debate about whether the year that has passed [since Nagel left the public service] is a sufficient ‘cooling off’ period. But we know that Nagel continued to serve the prime minister in a professional capacity [after leaving office], and has remained tied to the government and the prime minister. Is he a representative of the public or of the government?”

If the state’s representatives choose to defend the appointments of Nagel and Shtark in court, there may be further delays in the committee’s ability to approve several key upcoming appointments, including those of the next commissioner of the Israel Police and the next chief of staff of the IDF. The terms of both Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s and Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot are ending in December.

Former national security adviser Yaacov Nagel in Tel Aviv, March 29, 2017. (Flash 90)

The Goldberg Committee is charged with examining any ethical difficulties that arise in the choice of appointees to the heads of key state agencies, including the IDF, Israel Police, Mossad, Shin Bet and Bank of Israel.

The Movement for Integrity responded to the court’s freeze order by calling on Shtark and Nagel to resign from the committee without waiting for the court to force them to do so, “especially given the urgent appointments the committee must consider.”

The Goldberg Committee’s fourth member is the serving head of the Civil Service Commission, a post currently held in an acting capacity since May 2017 by Udi Prawer, until recently the head of strategic planning in the Prime Minister’s Office. Prawer is expected to be replaced on the committee in mid-September by Daniel Hershkovitz, the former science minister and president of Bar Ilan University, whose appointment as the new civil service commissioner is expected to be ratified by the cabinet on September 12.

The Movement for Integrity has said it plans to challenge that appointment as well. It promises to appeal Hershkovitz’s appointment as the next civil service commissioner, and thus as the next member of the Goldberg Committee, after he is confirmed at next week’s cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal graft investigations, all of which involve suspicions that he advanced the interests of businesspeople in government in exchange for expensive gifts and positive media coverage. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.

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