Netanyahu will reportedly seek changes to legal system if overhaul talks fail

TV report says contingency plan calls for shakeup of Attorney General’s Office and State Attorney’s Office; Rothman to unveil plan aimed at ensuring latter will speed up cases

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly pursue shakeups of the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office if his coalition’s negotiations with the opposition on judicial reform fall apart.

Rather than working to ensure the government has control over the Judicial Appointments Committee, a key part of the government’s overhaul plans, a senior official told Channel 13 on Wednesday that Netanyahu will instead focus his attention on the two offices that play an essential role in deciding what criminal cases are opened.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu declared the coalition’s effort to revamp the judiciary would return to the agenda now after the ruling bloc succeeded in passing a budget. Negotiations at the President’s Residence have been ongoing for the past two months, with few indications that the sides are close to reaching a compromise.

The premier reiterated later Wednesday that he was committed to securing as broad of a consensus as possible for the judicial reforms his government is seeking, following opposition criticism of his earlier comments.

The Channel 13 report did not specify what changes Netanyahu would seek at the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. The network added that it was not clear whether Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a key architect of the judicial proposals, would go along with the effort.

However, Netanyahu was said to recognize that he needs a contingency plan if the negotiations with the opposition fail, as he will likely come under significant pressure from his base to pass some sort of judicial legislation.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Constitution Law and Justice Committee chair Simcha Rothman announced Thursday that he will unveil his own initiative aimed at reforming the State Attorney’s Office, currently headed by Amit Aisman.

Rothman, another leading figure in the overhaul push, believes that the office has long dragged out its cases in what has amounted to “torture” for those being investigated.

He said he would roll out the initiative at a hearing of his committee to which Aisman would be summoned.

Rothman pointed to ombudsman reports citing hardship faced by those under investigation — or even those whose cases had been closed — to secure jobs and live with dignity.

Amit Aisman speakers during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The constitution committee will also discuss Rothman’s claim that the State Attorney’s Office is preventing the police from filing indictments for the crime of incitement to terrorism.

Current law requires criminal investigations by the police to be time-limited: Charges in a misdemeanor case must be filed within six months, whereas a felony charge or a charge whose punishment is ten years or more in prison must be made within 18 months. However, the State Attorney’s Office is still given leniency in extending those limits and there are sometimes cases where a suspect is left in limbo for years before authorities formally submit charges.

Ninety-nine of the 96,271 indictments filed by the State Attorney’s Office as of 2019 were completed within the time allotment granted to authorities, according to a 2021 government report. However, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit was asked to approve delays in the filing of 136 of the 137 indictments filed by the State Attorney’s Office.

The attorney general and state attorney in recent years have become targets of criticism for much of the Israeli right, which views the positions as endowed with unchecked powers that they use to sometimes overrule the will of elected officials.

Mandelblit, in particular, became the target of much of the pro-Netanyahu bloc’s anger after he indicted the Likud leader in 2021 in three separate corruption cases, for which the premier is currently standing trial. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

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