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High Court says attorney general can also serve as state attorney

Decision allows Avichai Mandelblit to hold both positions temporarily, a move vehemently opposed by the former justice minister

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing state attorney Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing state attorney Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court on Monday rejected a petition against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit also serving as the state attorney, temporarily.

Last week, new Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said that he would initially hold off on appointing a new acting state attorney, a position that was at the center of a feud between his predecessor and Mandelblit.

“I decided, at this stage, not to appoint an acting state attorney. It is my intention to weigh the different possibilities while consulting with the attorney general and yourself,” Nissenkorn wrote in a letter to Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the Civil Service Commission, which vets candidates for high level positions.

Nissenkorn, a member of the Blue and White party who took over at the Justice Ministry with the formation of the new government, did not indicate when he would appoint of a permanent prosecutor.

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

The decision means Mandelblit, who last year indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on criminal charges in three cases, will continue to double up as attorney general and acting state attorney. Former justice minister Amir Ohana, an ally of Netanyahu’s, had vehemently opposed Mandelblit serving in the temporary position. The two frequently clashed over the independence of the justice system from politicians, particularly those allied with an indicted prime minister.

Under the coalition deal between Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud, the parties agreed to hold off for six months on making senior appointments that require government approval. They later agreed to scale that back to 100 days after criticism from the High Court of Justice.

Last month, Mandelblit said he would assume the role of acting state attorney, after the High Court issued an injunction preventing the extension of Dan Eldad’s term in the post.

Eldad was appointed to the position for a temporary three-month period in February by Ohana, who served in the role from June last year until this month.

Former state attorney Shai Nitzan, who played a key role in the indictment of Netanyahu on criminal charges and had also invited Ohana’s ire, concluded his five-year term in December.

Mandelblit opposed Eldad’s appointment, seeing the head of the prosecution’s economic crimes unit as lacking the necessary experience for the post, but ultimately acquiesced to Ohana’s decision. He later entered into an unprecedented clash with Eldad, reportedly convinced that he and Ohana were bent on ousting him from his post, possibly at the behest of Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan SINDEL / POOL / AFP)

Mandelblit indicted Netanyahu last year on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three criminal investigations, as well as bribery in one of them. The cases center on accusations he received illegal gifts and traded political favors for positive news coverage.

With his trial opening last week, Netanyahu again denied wrongdoing and dismissed the charges against him as a conspiracy by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to force him from office. He has not provided evidence for these claims.

While serving as justice minister, Ohana railed repeatedly against the state prosecution and earlier this month launched an attack against Mandelblit and called for an investigation into Nitzan and the state prosecution. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman turned down Ohana’s request for a special probe.

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