The High Court of Justice, responding to a petition by a government watchdog, on Sunday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to appoint a permanent justice minister within 48 hours. It said it would convene on Tuesday if the appointment was not made by then.
The proposal was part of a compromise offered by Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the beginning of a hearing on a petition against Netanyahu and Gantz, who have allowed a series of government offices to remain without a minister running them, after the terms of several interim ministers expired.
There has been no justice minister since the beginning of April after Gantz’s maximal three-month term as acting justice minister expired. Under the power-sharing agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu, the former is the only one who can select a minister, but Netanyahu has blocked a required cabinet vote to approve such a candidate. Critics have accused Netanyahu of intentionally seeking to weaken the justice system due to his ongoing corruption trial, as he hopes to appoint a minister who will be friendlier to his cause.
Deeming the position of justice minister the most important, Hayut gave the shortest amount of time for the premier and defense minister to fill that post. As for the remaining offices that remain without ministers, the chief justice proposed that they be filled by next Sunday. These include the Science and Technology Ministry, the Social Equality Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry — all vacated by ministers who resigned in recent months as the government collapsed.
“We would prefer for the government to make such decisions on its own,” Hayut said at the hearing. “If we end up being needed to decide on the matter, free up your calendars for Tuesday. If there is no decision — we will have to convene.”
Netanyahu in response pledged to hold a cabinet meeting to discuss the matter by Tuesday, but avoided making any commitments as to a final decision, Hebrew media reported.
Shortly after Hayut made her proposal, Gantz tweeted that he will demand that he be appointed justice minister at the next cabinet meeting, “in order to continue to safeguard democracy.
“You don’t need 48 hours to do this. You can bring it to a vote within 48 minutes and stop violating the rule of law,” he added, in comments directed at Netanyahu.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed similar concerns to Hayut regarding the ongoing vacancies in his own response to the petition, which was filed by the Movement for Quality Government. Mandelblit noted that the absence of justice minister prevents a variety of government decisions from taking place, and that the security cabinet may only convene in extreme occasions while the position remains vacant.
The coronavirus cabinet, which has been responsible for passing regular decisions throughout the pandemic, also cannot meet so long as there is no justice minister, he said.
According to Mandelblit, Netanyahu was set to present a plan at Sunday’s hearing on how to implement the coronavirus-related court measures even without a justice minister.
Gantz filed a response of his own that was submitted at the Sunday hearing, in which he rejected a proposal by Netanyahu that the justice minister’s powers be dispersed among existing ministers in order to avoid filling the post.
Gantz demanded that the position of justice minister be filled immediately.
Last month, Gantz castigated Netanyahu for blocking the appointment and said he had written to Mandelblit to ask whether the premier should be required to step down as prime minister over the matter.
The prime minister’s move to leave Israel without a justice minister represented a “clear instance of conflict of interest,” said Gantz, intimating that Netanyahu was interfering in the state’s legal establishment for personal gain because he is on trial.