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Mandelblit to civil service chief: Convene panel to select new state attorney

Civil service commissioner claims selection panel can’t be formed, citing potential conflicts of interest; justice minister decries ‘paralysis’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset, December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset, December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday rejected an assertion by Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz that no selection committee can currently be formed to determine the country’s next state attorney.

Israel has been without a permanent state attorney since December 2019, with the end of the term of Shai Nitzan. Mandelblit has been serving as acting state attorney in recent months.

Hershkowitz has asserted that no such committee can currently be formed because the acting director-general of the Justice Ministry, Sigal Yaakobi, can not participate as her temporary status would represent a conflict of interest.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn recently moved to start the process to select a new state attorney, despite no agreements 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 attorney post.

Mandelblit, who would be the head of the committee if formed, stressed the importance of appointing a state prosecutor. “There is great public importance for the committee to be established as soon as possible for the appointment of a key position in the law enforcement system in the State of Israel, after about ten months in which there has been no one serving as a permanent state attorney,” he said.

He rejected the notion that Yaakobi’s temporary status prevents the selection committee from being formed, and said he believed “that there is no issue” with Yaakobi serving on the committee and that “blocking the request of a minister authorized to convene a search committee for an unknown period of time raises serious issues.”

Nissenkorn agreed with Mandelblit, and accused Hershkovitz Tuesday of blocking the appointment of other key officials in the ministry, resulting in what he called “the paralysis of the Justice Ministry.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz at a Knesset State Control Committee meeting on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Nissenkorn claimed that the appointment of a permanent director-general of the Justice Ministry had been prevented, while “at the same time it is argued that the appointment of a permanent director-general is a condition for appointing other senior officials in the ministry.”

Nissenkorn called this state of affairs an “unacceptable situation, to say the least.”

A spokesman from Hershkovitz said Wednesday that “the commissioner made his decision after examining the matter thoroughly.”

In the current government coalition agreement, the Likud and Blue and White parties agreed to put off any senior nominations which they were likely to clash over.

However, earlier this month Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who heads Blue and White, announced he would move to make a permanent appointment to the post of state attorney.

Gantz said it was time to end the “chaos” in the government and fill senior law enforcement posts that have long been manned by temporary appointments.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Blue and White will likely be unable to appoint a new state attorney without Likud’s agreement, but a hard push to do so by Gantz’s party would further destabilize the already shaky foundations of the dysfunctional unity government.

Similarly, the Israel Police have also been without a commissioner since December 2018 with the end of the term of Roni Alsheich. Alsheich too was a key figure in the Netanyahu probes and thus reviled by Netanyahu and Likud as one of the figures the premier claims — without evidence — to be involved in an attempted coup against him. Motti Cohen has been acting police chief since Alsheich’s departure and has had his tenure extended several times.

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