New justice minister to hold off on appointing acting state attorney
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New justice minister to hold off on appointing acting state attorney

Avi Nissenkorn says he intends ‘to weigh the different possibilities,’ while keeping AG Mandelblit temporarily in post after clash over previous office holder

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

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn on Tuesday said he would initially hold off on appointing a new acting state attorney, a position that was at the center of a feud between his predecessor and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

“I decided, at this stage, not to appoint an acting state attorney. It is my intention to weigh the different possibilities while consulting with the attorney general and you,” Nissenkorn wrote in a letter to Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the Civil Service Commission, which vets candidates for high level positions.

Nissenkorn, a member of the Blue and White party who took over at the Justice Ministry on Monday, did not indicate when he would make the appointment of a permanent prosecutor.

The decision means Mandelblit, who last year indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on criminal charges in three separate cases, will continue to double up as attorney general and acting state attorney. The decision marks a sharp shift from former justice minister Amir Ohana, who had expressed unhappiness with Mandelblit, apparently over his decision to indict Netanyahu.

Under the coalition deal between Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud, the parties agreed to hold off for six months on making senior appointments that require government approval. They later agreed to scale that back to 100 days after criticism from the High Court of Justice.

The agreement did not specifically address acting appointments, but said the tenure of those serving in senior posts would be extended for the 100-day period.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right) and Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (Justice Ministry / Flash90)

Earlier this month, Mandelblit said he would assume the role of acting state attorney, after the High Court issued an injunction preventing the extension of Dan Eldad’s term in the post.

Eldad was appointed to the position for a temporary three-month period in February by the acting justice minister, Ohana, an ally of Netanyahu’s who served in the role from June last year until Monday.

Former state attorney Shai Nitzan, who played a key role in the indictment of Netanyahu on criminal charges and had also invited Ohana’s ire, concluded his five-year term in December.

Mandelblit initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, seeing the head of the prosecution’s economic crimes unit as lacking the necessary experience for the post.

But Mandelblit ultimately acquiesced to Ohana’s decision. He later entered into an unprecedented clash with Eldad, reportedly convinced that he and Ohana were bent on ousting him from his post, possibly at the behest of Netanyahu.

Mandelblit indicted Netanyahu last year on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three criminal investigations, as well as bribery in one of them. The cases center on accusations he received illegal gifts and traded political favors for positive news coverage.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges against him as a conspiracy by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to force him from office. His trial is set to open on May 24.

Then Justice Minister Amir Ohana delivers a speech at a Likud election rally in Or Yehuda on February 13, 2020 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

While serving as justice minister, Ohana railed repeatedly against the state prosecution and earlier this month launched an attack against Mandelblit and called for an investigation into Nitzan. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman turned down Ohana’s request for the probe.

Taking office Monday, Nissenkorn vowed to be a “shield” for the justice system, as he sought to make a sharp break from the approach of Ohana.

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