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Justice minister contracts COVID ahead of cabinet farewell for AG

Gideon Sa’ar says he will work from home for the week, which will see retirement of Mandelblit and deliberation on his replacement

Justice Minister Gideon Saar speaks during a plenum session in the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Saar speaks during a plenum session in the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced Sunday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus and will enter isolation, as the cabinet was scheduled later in the day to bid farewell to the attorney general.

Sa’ar tweeted, “A ‘positive’ start to a week of us all being at home,” along with a photo of two home virus test kits showing confirmation of infection.

He wrote that, so far, all of his family members are infected except for one of his four children.

Sa’ar’s confinement to quarantine comes as Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is set to retire on Tuesday, with no replacement yet selected for the position. Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting will include a special event to mark Mandelblit’s exit, but Sa’ar will be unable to attend in person.

Earlier this month, Sa’ar said that he would appoint State Prosecutor Amit Aisman acting attorney general until a replacement is found for Mandelblit, noting at the time that it appeared the process to appoint a permanent attorney general would take until February at least.

On Thursday, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel announced that he was infected with COVID, and on Saturday Likud MK David Bitan, who fell seriously ill with coronavirus last year, again tested positive.

The three are among over a dozen lawmakers and cabinet ministers — including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper, Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev — who have contracted the coronavirus in recent weeks.

The recent infections came with the highly infectious Omicron variant rampaging across the country and driving daily caseloads to record highs. Health Ministry officials believe that the surge has peaked and is now trending downward.

However, there was still concern that the number of patients in serious condition could rise. The rate of serious cases tends to lag behind new infections due to the time it takes for patients’ condition to deteriorate.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Mandelblit will leave after six years in office, in the midst of reported negotiations for a plea bargain with former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu to end his trial in three corruption cases.

A search committee for his replacement is expected to provide Sa’ar with a shortlist of candidates on Sunday evening. The panel is expected to send three candidates to Sa’ar, who will then appoint one of them attorney general, pending cabinet approval

The selection committee published the final list of nine candidates for the position earlier this month. Any name presented to Sa’ar must be agreed upon by at least four of the five members, and the nominee must go through a vetting process.

Gali Baharav-Miara (Courtesy)

Reports have indicated that Sa’ar’s preferred choice is Gali Baharav-Miara, who previously served eight years as the Tel Aviv district attorney for civil affairs. Channel 13 news reported Saturday that Baharav-Miara is expected to be included in the names presented to the justice minister and is, therefore, the frontrunner.

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