Information minister pans AG for nixing a judicial overhaul explainer
Distel Atbaryan accuses Baharav Miara of trying to silence her after denying her permission to run a campaign aimed at explaining government’s position
Information Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan accused Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara on Wednesday of trying to gag her intended explanation of the government’s drastic overhaul of the judicial system and said she was maintaining a “tissue of lies” that is splitting the citizenry.
Distel Atbaryan tweeted that she had asked the attorney general for permission to launch a campaign detailing the government’s policy in the hope of calming tensions over the controversial legislation and encouraging public dialogue about it. Baharav Miara turned down the request, citing its inherent propagandist nature.
“I am forbidden from publishing factual information about the reform,” wrote Distel Atbaryan. “Because it is forbidden to crack the screen of lies that is tearing apart the people. Only the elite control public discourse. There is no space for the truth.”
“First Netanyahu, and now me,” she said, a reference to the attorney general’s ruling last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not play a role in the judicial plans as it would violate a conflict of interest agreement that bars him from involvement in any legislation that could impact his ongoing criminal trial. Netanyahu at the time accused Baharav Miara of putting “a gag order” on him.
In a letter to the attorney general, Distel Atbaryan wrote that her campaign would try to “bridge between” those who oppose or support the overhaul. She noted that, as information minister, she believed that providing facts and clarifications would help reduce tensions.
“The campaign will be based on an explanation of the judicial reform, in which I will present the legislation process and the changes that will come as a result,” she wrote, vowing to remain neutral.
The minister tweeted the letter she received from Baharav Miara in response, which said the proposed campaign “raises difficulties from a number of aspects.”
A key challenge, Baharav Miara noted, would be for a campaign dealing with such a sensitive matter to maintain neutrality and remain “devoid of political messaging.”
Baharav Miara also pointed out that government campaigns are supposed to present the work of the ministry in question, which would not be touched on in a publication of details about the judicial reform. In addition, since the legislation has not yet been signed into law, the campaign cannot be justified as a need to explain existing government practices to the public.
The attorney general suggested that the minister instead run a campaign on the subject of “unity, without getting into the details of the judicial reform.”
Baharav Miara finished her letter by pointing out that although the government created the Information Ministry when the coalition was established, it has not laid out its role and areas of authority. She suggested the government attend to these issues “in order to prevent a lack of clarity or further disputes on the matter.”
Netanyahu’s hardline government has found itself at odds with its most senior legal representative over a series of bills aimed at weakening the judiciary.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the overhaul, appeared to threaten that he would fire Baharav Miara. During an interview, he said, “We are not dealing with her dismissal at the moment because we are focusing on [passing the judicial] reform. We can’t do everything at once.”
Baharav-Miara’s office issued a statement later in the day saying that “the threat of dismissal will not deter the attorney general from fulfilling her duties.”
The legal overhaul, advanced by Levin and backed by Netanyahu, would grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including High Court justices, severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation, and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a bare majority of 61 MKs.
Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms would undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended. The plan’s backers argue that the judicial branch has too much power and should not be able to strike down decisions backed by the cabinet and the Knesset, which represent the will of the majority.
The Knesset began voting on some of the overhaul bills this week.