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Likud MK draws fire over threat to oust attorney general

Head of Knesset committee files police complaint against Yoav Kisch for saying Gali Baharav-Miara will be out of a job if she approves selection of new IDF chief before election

Likud MK Yoav Kisch speaks at Gideon Sa'ar's campaign launch for party leader lin Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019. (Gili Yaariq/Flash90)
Likud MK Yoav Kisch speaks at Gideon Sa'ar's campaign launch for party leader lin Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019. (Gili Yaariq/Flash90)

Likud lawmakers came under harsh criticism Sunday after threatening that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara would be fired if opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s party returns to power.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that he had sent a legal opinion to Gali Baharav-Miara arguing that he can forge ahead with appointing the next Israel Defense Forces commander ahead of the November 1 vote, brushing off concerns over an interim government’s authority to appoint top-ranking officials.

Gantz’s office said it also gave Baharav-Miara classified documents “regarding the security and political challenges Israel is currently facing.”

Reacting to the letter, Likud MK Yoav Kisch said that if she gave Gantz a green light, she would be removed from the post should Likud retake power after a government is formed.

“The direct ramification [of such a move] would be to her and her status,” Likud MK Yoav Kisch said in a statement.

Going a step further than Kisch, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi vowed to replace Baharav-Miara, regardless of whether she okays the appointment of a new military chief.

“Just like all the appointments of the fraud government,” Karhi wrote on Twitter.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Kisch’s comments were denounced by members of the outgoing coalition, with the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee saying he filed a police complaint against the Likud lawmaker.

“The speed with which a senior MK in the Likud faction arrived at explicit threats against a senior public servant is something intolerable that cannot be allowed to pass in silence,” Labor MK Gilad Kariv said.

Kariv argued Kisch’s comments went beyond campaign rhetoric and were “an explicit threat that is meant to deter a public servant.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who nominated Baharav-Miara, denounced Kisch’s comments as “gangsterism” in a one-word tweet.

“For those who still don’t understand, this is what the upcoming elections are about — statesmanship,” Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana tweeted in response to Karhi.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy also castigated Kisch.

“It is very severe that a lawmaker is threatening the attorney general in such a direct manner,” said Levy, a member of new Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. “This is an unbearable situation that we can’t allow in a democracy. One can argue and disagree with positions of legal advisers, but there is a way to conduct the debate and this isn’t one of them.”

Amid the pushback, Netanyahu reportedly sought to distance himself from Kisch, with unnamed sources close to the ex-premier telling the Ynet news site that the comments “were not his opinion.”

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset as Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy sits in background, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kisch, meanwhile, denied he was making a threat.

“What I said was misunderstood. I didn’t mean to threaten the attorney general… I was referring to the fact that the post of attorney general is a professional position. A decision of the attorney general on the appointment of a senior official by a transition government is contrary to High Court rulings and is effectively a political decision,” Kisch said.

Netanyahu — who is currently standing trial on corruption charges — and Likud have frequently railed at prosecutors, law enforcement, and the court system in recent years, claiming without evidence that the ex-premier was indicted on trumped charges in order to force him from office.

While still serving as prime minister in a transitional government last April, Netanyahu appointed a Likud loyalist as justice minister over the objections of then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, but later backed down, before the High Court of Justice was slated to hold a hearing on the matter.

Likud MKs and their allies have vowed far-reaching reforms to Israel’s legal system if they return to power, such as allowing the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings and giving politicians more say in the judicial appointments process. Some have also proposed legislation that could grant Netanyahu immunity.

The new elections were called Thursday when the Knesset voted to dissolve, following the collapse of former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s disparate ruling coalition, with Yair Lapid becoming Israel’s 14th premier on Friday.

Recent polls have suggested that Netanyahu is better placed than he was in the last election.

Whereas Netanyahu and his allies (Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism) won 52 seats in the March 2021 elections that led to the Bennett-Lapid coalition, more recent polls have shown the Netanyahu-led bloc now rising to 58-60 seats in the 120-member house, on the cusp of a majority. Together with the Yamina party — now led by Ayelet Shaked, rather than Bennett — Netanyahu could clinch a majority for a narrow, right-wing coalition.

However, current political alliances may shift, parties could merge or drop out of the race, and new parties could join it. Furthermore, several parties are polling close to the 3.25% threshold for Knesset representation and may fail to pass it, potentially jumbling the political math.

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