ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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'The law is no longer considered binding, absolute, but rather as relative'

In rare criticism, deputy AG says Israel living in ‘post-law era’

Warning that rule of law is imperiled, Dina Zilber describes culture of intimidation against legal advisers who refuse to rubber-stamp legislation; slams new broadcasting compromise

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, at the Knesset, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, at the Knesset, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

In a highly unusual public statement, a deputy attorney general this week came out strongly against recent Knesset legislation and the compromise on the new public broadcaster, describing them as emblematic of a “post-law era” in which government lawyers are strong-armed by politicians into approving legally problematic maneuvers.

In a speech on Sunday, Dina Zilber described a culture of personal intimidation and the “naming, blaming, shaming” of legal advisers who are seen to undercut politicians’ aims.

Warning that the legal system is imperiled, the deputy attorney general specifically singled out for criticism the NGO law, which increases transparency requirements for organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments; and the outpost regulation law that legalizes some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The latter has also been fiercely criticized by her boss, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has refused to defend the legislation in the High Court of Justice.

“We are witnessing a wave of legislation that challenges other authorities and human rights: the Regulation Law [for West Bank outposts], the broadcaster law, the annexation laws, legislation that limits organizations and NGOs, and limitations on the attorney general and High Court,” said Zilber, in comments carried by the Calcalist business daily.

“A rise of new values, aggressive ones.The winner determines what is right and what isn’t. The principles of democracy and human rights are marginalized.”

“Anyone who ‘interferes’ in the professional decision-making process is subject to a violent and personal reaction” to “deter (and) mark” them, said Zilber. She characterized the pervading atmosphere as “an era of post-law.”

“The law is no longer considered binding, absolute, but rather as relative,” she said. “There is a rejection of the idea that compliance with the law is one of the last unifying adhesives in a divided and fragmented society.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

 

Along with her fellow Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht, who is reportedly against the new framework deal on the new public broadcaster, Zilber criticized the agreement reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon last week, which was approved by Mandelblit.

The agreement will see the new corporation, formally called Kan, lose its centerpiece news division, for which staff had been hired ahead of the intended launch on April 30. Staffers from the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is being replaced, will instead provide the station’s news in the coming months until a new, separate broadcast entity is established to deal with all current affairs offerings.

“The splitting of the news division from the broadcaster will have negative ramifications,” said Zilber, stopping short of describing the move as legally problematic. “Splitting and weakening [the corporation] will cause nothing good, not for the corporation and not for the state.”

She also charged that conservatives who accuse Israel’s legal authorities of legal activism are hypocritical, as they seek from their legal advisers a high level of involvement and creativity to reinterpret the laws when it’s politically expedient.

Going further, Zilber warned the legal system could face an imminent, irreversible collapse.

“Several centimeters of stalactite take several decades to form, but its destruction could be immediate and irreparable,” she said. “We cannot be complacent in the face of the collapse of systems built over decades, one step at a time, as a result of a brutal attack on them simply because they are fulfilling their role. We must fight for the rule of law and supremacy of the law. Trees that grew over generations can be uprooted in one swing of an ax.”

“We do not want to be in a position in which the extent of the long-term social destruction is discovered by the archaeologists of the future,” she added.

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