Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Tuesday abruptly fired the ministry’s Director General Emi Palmor on Tuesday, asking the civil service commissioner to replace her with Lt. Col. (res.) Ophir Cohen, an advocate for IDF reservists.
The move came as a shock to many in the judiciary, as there had been no prior warning and no explanation was publicly given.
Ohana later explained the move, saying the accepted practice is for a minister to appoint a director general.
It is rare for a minister serving in a caretaker government to fire such a senior professional. The attorney general was opposed to the move, according to reports.
Palmor had previously served under both the right-wing Ayelet Shaked and left-leaning Tzipi Livni.
Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist, was appointed to his position early last month after the prime minister fired Shaked ahead of this September’s repeat Knesset elections.
Taking to Twitter, Shaked praised Palmor, calling her a “dedicated and professional public servant” who “managed the Justice Ministry in a professional manner during my tenure.”
According to Channel 12, the decision ran counter to the attorney general’s legal opinion that ministers in a caretaker government cannot fire ministry directors.
Ohana is a lawyer by training who became the first openly gay MK in a right-wing party when he was elected to the Knesset in 2015 and is the first LGBT minister in Israel’s history.
Though only in office for months, Ohana quickly courted controversy when he suggested in a TV interview last month that it was not always appropriate to adhere to High Court of Justice rulings — particularly when the ruling could endanger lives. The remark drew widespread criticism, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ohana waded into the growing speculation over his reasons for firing Palmor, a move that drew criticism from many parties and raised questions about his possible motive.
Some suggested he was attempting to influence the appointment of the next state attorney — any director general he would appoint would have a seat on the appointing committee — in order to ensure that one candidate opposed by Netanyahu, the lead prosecutor in the premier’s corruption investigations Liat Ben-Ari, isn’t given the job.
Others pointed to Yair Netanyahu’s sharing of a Facebook post on Sunday that accused Palmor of being a “leftist.”
But Ohana insisted he alone made the decision.
“The accepted practice is for a minister to appoint a director general. It’s a position of trust — to do otherwise would be the anomaly,” Ohana said in a statement. “This is what governance looks like.”
He added: “In recent weeks, I’ve spoken to Emi Palmor about concluding her term, and she expressed a willingness and agreement to finish. There is no truth to the wild speculations about the decision, which was made by me and me alone.”