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Justice minister to seek confirmation of state prosecutor despite sexist remarks

Nissenkorn reprimands Amit Aisman, saying past comments ‘have no place in the public and professional discourse’ but do not prevent his appointment

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn on Tuesday met with state prosecutor pick Amit Aisman and told him that although the sexually explicit comments he made in the past toward female subordinates were unacceptable, they do not disqualify him from the senior role.

Nissenkorn announced that he intends to bring the appointment of Aisman, currently Haifa District prosecutor, for government approval at next week’s cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The issue centers on two incidents, one 12 years ago and the other approximately six years ago, in which Aisman made sexually explicit remarks to subordinates. In 2018 then director-general of the Justice Ministry Emi Palmor ruled that that though inappropriate for a civil servant, the comments did not constitute sexual harassment. Aisman was instead issued a warning as part of internal disciplinary proceedings.

During their meeting Tuesday, Nissenkorn told Aisman that “remarks of this kind are unacceptable, and they have no place in the public and professional discourse,” according to a statement from the minister. Nissenkorn stressed nevertheless that “the circumstances don’t prevent the appointment.”

The minister further impressed on Aisman “the great importance of the existence of an independent system of rule of law in a democratic state and the fundamental duty of maintaining the independence of gatekeepers,” the statement said.

Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman. (Justice Ministry)

Aisman expressed “deep regret for the things that were said” and committed to act for the preservation of “respectable discourse within the framework of his position and in general.”

The meeting came the day after a selections committee headed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit selected Aisman out of ten candidates to fill the state prosecutor position, which has been vacant since Shai Nitzan ended his term in December 2019. Mandelblit has been serving as acting state prosecutor in the meantime.

In deciding on Aisman, the committee noted that it had taken into consideration the controversial remarks but found they “do not characterize Aisman’s work and his behavior” and “do not amount to a defect that prevents him from serving as state attorney.” The committee also pointed to Aisman’s regret over the incidents.

The Israel Women’s Network called the selection “improper.”

Aisman’s appointment to “such an important position as the state prosecutor, and the attempts to make light of his blatantly sexual remarks in order to legitimize the choice is improper,” the women’s rights lobby said in statement Monday.

Also Tuesday, the Haaretz daily reported that in 2015, Aisman opposed initiating criminal proceedings against a senior police officer accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.

Aisman was the only person during a meeting on whether to charge Roni Rittman to express doubt about the credibility of the accuser, according to the report.

The case against Rittman, who headed Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, was ultimately closed and he resigned from the force in 2018.

The State Attorney’s Office pushed back on the report, noting the then attorney general and state prosecutor didn’t believe the accusations warranted criminal charges.

Aisman’s nomination must still be approved by the government, which is teetering on the edge of collapse, with speculation rampant that new elections will be called in the coming days. Should Aisman not be approved, Mandelbit is expected to take the matter to the High Court, Haaretz reported.

Behind Aisman, the next leading candidate is current Deputy State Prosecutor Shlomo Lemberger.

As part of their coalition agreement, Likud and Blue and White agreed to put off any senior nominations that they were likely to clash over. However, at the start of October, Gantz said it was time to end the “chaos” in the government and fill senior law enforcement posts that have long been manned by people in temporary positions as stopgaps.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a farewell ceremony held for Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Nissenkorn began the process to select a new state attorney, including convening the committee, despite no agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on the matter.

Netanyahu, on trial in three corruption cases, is seen as unlikely to agree to the Blue and White minister’s preferred pick for the state prosecutor post.

Aisman was part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the cases against the prime minister, and was reportedly also the preferred choice of the previous state prosecutor, Nitzan, who recommended that Netanyahu be charged.

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