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Justice Minister Sa’ar holds first meeting with Supreme Court’s Hayut

New Hope leader discusses court system with top justice; has vowed to bring major changes to the office and is working to split the job of attorney general into two roles

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem for a group photo of the new government, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem for a group photo of the new government, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

New Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut met on Tuesday for their first work meeting since Sa’ar took office earlier this week.

According to the ministry, the two met in Hayut’s office in Jerusalem and discussed current issues relating to the courts system, and pledged to meet again soon.

Sa’ar, who replaced Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the helm of the ministry, is taking over the position after a long period without a stable minister. The Justice Ministry is one of the more contentious government bodies, with some past ministers — including newly-installed Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked — calling to drastically limit the powers of the Supreme Court.

In the handover ceremony with Gantz on Monday, Sa’ar pledged to fix, but not to destroy, the legal system in Israel.

“The legal system is in need of systematic changes,” he said, vowing to adopt a nonpartisan approach “to fix what needs fixing. To fix — yes, to destroy — no.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sa’ar addressed the political discourse that has enveloped the Justice Ministry in recent years.

“The public debate on the legal system in recent years is split between two extremes,” he said. “There are those who delegitimize the system, denounce the purity of its motives and slander its people with conspiracy theories and seek to undermine its foundations and undo its independence.”

The other extreme, Sa’ar said, are the people “who reject any criticism and oppose any change” to the legal system. “These people have never found anything that needs fixing and if they have they never find the time to fix it.”

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar leads a Knesset faction meeting on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sa’ar also discussed the recent violence that plagued mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel during the fighting against Gaza terror groups last month.

“The events of the past month only made clearer what has long been known in Israel,” he said. “There are wide areas of the country where there is no rule of law. In the south, the Galilee, in Lod and in south Tel Aviv,” Sa’ar continued, saying that a modern state “cannot come to terms with the existence of extra-territorial areas where there is no rule and no law and order.”

Sa’ar vowed to place the protection of human rights and the equality of all citizens at the heart of his agenda.

“First and foremost the legal system is intended to provide legal services to citizens of the country,” he said. “We should aim to make it more efficient and more accessible.” He also noted that in the Israeli “discourse on human rights there is only a marginal place for — if at all — the rights of those suspected, detained or charged in the powerful state legal system.”

Sa’ar reportedly fought to include in New Hope’s coalition agreement to enter the new government the ability to split up the job of attorney general. The move, which would require government approval and then legislation, would aim to create a separate position of chief prosecutor in Israel, and have the attorney general be solely the chief legal adviser to the government. Channel 13 said Sa’ar intends to present such a plan as early as September.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, center, with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing minister Benny Gantz, at a handover ceremony in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The current attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, was appointed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016. Though a longtime associate of Netanyahu, Mandelblit led the criminal corruption charges into the prime minister which ultimately resulted in Netanyahu’s indictment. Mandelblit has said he is opposed to the move to split the attorney general role into two jobs.

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