Justice minister vows to tap interim state attorney, setting up clash with AG

Amir Ohana stresses that by law he should make the selection; Avichai Mandelblit said set on having final say on candidate

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (L) and Justice Minister Amir Ohana attend the annual justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (L) and Justice Minister Amir Ohana attend the annual justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Monday evening emphasized that he would choose the interim state attorney, putting himself on a collision course with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who reportedly intends to have the final word on who gets the job.

Mandelblit has said in closed meetings that he will strongly oppose any appointment by Likud’s Ohana that is unacceptable to him, and that he may take the matter to the High Court of Justice, multiple Hebrew-language news outlets reported, signaling that the two were likely headed for a clash.

“Since we are a state of law, the person who will make the decision about who will be the interim [state attorney] will be me, in consultation with the Civil Service Commissioner and the attorney general,” Ohana tweeted.

Earlier, Ohana presented a list of five candidates to serve as interim state attorney instead of Shai Nitzan, who will end his term in two weeks. Four of the prospective replacements are opposed by Mandelblit, and one has said he does not want the job.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The appointment is overshadowed by the corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were formulated by Nitzan and announced recently by Mandelblit, which caused Ohana to launch a scathing attack on the state prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement bodies.

It is also affected by the current political crisis. Normally, a new state attorney is selected by a special committee appointed by the justice minister and headed by the attorney general. The latter is usually given freedom to choose a person they regard as worthy and with whom cooperation would be possible. However, Mandelblit has said that since Ohana is only serving in a caretaker government, he does not have the authority to form that committee.

Therefore, Ohana has given up on efforts to appoint a full-time replacement, and is focusing on tapping an interim state attorney, telling Channel 13 news over the weekend that, by law, it is his job make the appointment.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Monday, Ohana released his list of candidates, who must be current public servants. All of them are currently senior officials in the prosecution or the attorney general’s office.

But only one — Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Matters Shlomo Lemberger — is acceptable to Mandelblit, according to the Calcalist website. The report quoted Mandelblit as explaining he was the only one with sufficient experience.

The others are Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Matters Raz Nizri; Central District Deputy Prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari; Dan Eldad, director of the State Attorney’s Office’s Economic Department; and Tel Aviv District Attorney Oshra Gez-Eisenstein.

Nizri on Monday wrote a letter to Ohana saying he did not view himself as a candidate for state attorney, adding that “from my knowledge of the prosecution, I think Shlomo Lemberger is the most suited out of the candidates you mentioned.”

Tel Aviv District prosecutor Liat Ben Ari. (Justice Ministry)

The report added that Mandelblit also views Liat Ben-Ari — the prosecutor who had been in charge of the cases against Netanyahu — as a worthy candidate. However, chances are slim that Ohana, a staunch Netanyahu loyalist, will agree to her promotion.

After Mandelblit announced indictments against Netanyahu last month, the prime minister denounced the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust as a “coup,” while Ohana attacked the state prosecution, for which he is responsible, saying that it acts unprofessionally and without oversight.

“There are prosecutors breaking the law and nobody checks them,” Ohana said. “I call on the state comptroller to look into this and examine these accusations.”

Nitzan — along with Mandelblit and Ben-Ari — have all been receiving additional police protection over the past year due to threats from supporters of the prime minister.

Nitzan last week blasted Netanyahu and Ohana, decrying the campaign he claimed was aimed at eroding public trust in his office.

“I have to say I was shocked to hear his public attacks on the prosecution,” Nitzan said of Ohana in a closed discussion in Eilat, on the sidelines of a legal conference, in footage obtained by Channel 13. “He made blunt and grave remarks about the prosecution.”

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv in support of his claim that prosecutors set to indict him on corruption charges were carrying out a ‘coup,’ November 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“There is a campaign with the sole purpose of driving public distrust in the State Prosecutor’s Office. And after they hammer [that message] every day, they say, ‘Here, look, public trust is down.’ Of course it’s down. There are huge forces doing whatever they can to harm the public trust.”

Mandelblit also condemned “threats,” “lies” and “baseless slander” directed against law enforcement, in a thinly veiled rebuke of Netanyahu and his supporters.

“The dignified approach we take is not always embraced by others,” Mandelblit said, hours before thousands attended a Likud rally in Tel Aviv, under the banner, “Stopping the coup.”

“I am hearing expressions that don’t have a place in public discourse that are directed at the law enforcement system, and certain senior officials inside it. I am hearing threats. I am hearing lies. I am hearing baseless slander. That is simply shocking,” the attorney general said at the same Eilat conference at which Nitzan made his comments.

Following the announcement of charges against him, Netanyahu claimed that the investigations into his alleged misconduct had been tainted by various improprieties and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him. He demanded to “investigate the investigators.”

“I deeply respect the justice system in Israel. But you have to be blind not to see that something bad is happening to police investigators and the prosecution. We’re seeing an attempted coup by the police with false accusations” against him, Netanyahu charged.

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