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Likud’s Barkat calls to politicize attorney general and senior bureaucrat posts

Former Jerusalem mayor says top posts should be ‘positions of trust,’ doing away with unaffiliated senior civil servants and replacing them with political appointees

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud MK Nir Barkat holds a New Year event for his supporters in Tel Aviv on September 19, 2022. (Flash90)
Likud MK Nir Barkat holds a New Year event for his supporters in Tel Aviv on September 19, 2022. (Flash90)

Likud lawmaker Nir Barkat said he wants to split the role of the attorney general and turn the non-partisan office into a “position of trust,” in remarks made to a crowd of party activists gathered in Tel Aviv on Monday evening.

The move was one of several posited by the former Jerusalem mayor that would see senior civil servants replaced by political appointees.

Elected for a seven-year period, Israel’s attorney general is intended to be apolitical, but straddles a sometimes conflicting line, serving as both the head of the the state prosecution and as the legal adviser to the government.

“We need to split the role of attorney general and turn the attorney general into a position of trust,” said Barkat, adding that the dual mandate, rare in Western democracies, “is delusional.”

Placed in the eighth spot on the Likud list after the party’s August primary, Barkat joined a chorus of Likud candidates who are calling for judicial reform, but waver on the issue of how to treat the attorney general. With Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu currently on trial for three separate corruption cases, judicial reform has become a key issue in Israel’s November election, and the tone around it has mirrored political lines between Likud’s right-religious bloc and Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s anti-Netanyahu alliance.

Barkat also told the 3,000-odd activists that the next target should be placed on the State Prosecutor’s Office, which the attorney general oversees.

“The next reform that needs to be done is in the State Prosecutor’s Office,” Barkat said, saying the office’s conduct causes him to “lose sleep.”

A Likud party election event hosted by MK Nir Barkat in Tel Aviv, September 19, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

“They are unregulated and pose a threat to the system of governance. No one there pays a price for failures, for abusing justice, for persecution, and for injustices that occur against the public and its elected officials, which often end with nothing. And it doesn’t matter if the injustice is to Benjamin Netanyahu… to you or to me.”

Netanyahu maintains his innocence and claims the charges against him were fabricated by a politicized police force and prosecution, enabled by a weak attorney general, and encouraged by the leftist media.

As the outgoing government fell, several Likud MKs said they would aim to remove Attorney General Gahli Baharav-Miara once they returned to power, if she enabled Defense Minister Benny Gantz to appoint a new IDF Chief of Staff, which she ultimately did.

Other Likud MKs, including Miki Zohar, have taken a more conciliatory tone and insisted that Baharav-Miara’s job is not immediately on the line. In 2020, Zohar was questioned by the police in connection to possibly extorting the previous attorney general.

Netanyahu has also said he has no plans to replace Baharav-Miara, should he return to power.

Barkat said that the attorney general position should be “a position of trust” tied to the government because it is “critical to applying our policies.” He extended his comments to senior civil service members, whom he said should also be politically aligned with the government in order to enable the smooth implementation of policy.

Newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We will change senior bureaucrats to positions of trust and put in their places senior bureaucrats and managers committed to our way,” Barkat said, blaming “left-wing” bureaucrats for blocking previous right-wing policy implementation under Likud governments.

“In the US, in Germany, in France, on the day that a new administration enters, thousands of bureaucrats pack their things, leave their chairs, and go home. There, it’s natural and accepted,” Barkat claimed. “Only in this way can one control and implement the policy for which the government is elected.”

The senior Likud lawmaker also said that he wants to extend political control over the method of selecting justices for the Supreme Court.

“The revolution that we will lead is that the judges will be elected by the people’s representatives in the Knesset, that their opinions will reflect the opinion of the people,” Barkat said.

Currently, the court’s 15 justices are chosen by a nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, made up of politicians, representatives of the Israeli Bar, and justices.

Barkat said that he wanted to exert direct political control over judicial selection, mirroring legislation previewed earlier this summer by Likud that proposed to cancel the committee in favor of government recommendation and Knesset approval.

In a functioning government with a stable coalition, this would deliver a political rubber stamp to candidates the government wanted to push through, without opposition input.

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