Ohana pans justice system’s ‘pressure’ on his state attorney pick as she exits

Ohana pans justice system’s ‘pressure’ on his state attorney pick as she exits

Justice minister likens strain placed on Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari to ‘a gun placed on the table’ before her; she announced her withdrawal on Friday

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks on Channel 12's 'Meet the Press,' December 21, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks on Channel 12's 'Meet the Press,' December 21, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Saturday called to examine the conduct of Israel’s justice system a day after his appointee for acting state attorney, Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari, announced she would not take the position in light of the intense backlash to her nomination.

“Obviously there was heavy pressure and it led eventually to Orly’s decision,” Ohana told Channel 12’s “Meet the Press.”

He likened that pressure to “a gun [placed] on the table” before Ginsberg Ben-Ari and said “it saddens me greatly that this is what the system looks like. It saddens me and also in my eyes demands examination.”

Ohana said he had expected the backlash from justice officials but had hoped that Ginsberg Ben-Ari would weather it.

Announcing she was turning down the appointment on Friday, Ginsberg Ben-Ari said she had been unwillingly dragged into a fight between larger forces. Though she thanked Ohana for his trust and expressed belief in her ability to succeed in the position, she lamented an “attempt to turn my selection into a political matter and present it as part of an effort to hurt the rule of law.” She said this “goes against my conduct and values.

“The atmosphere that has been created threatens to hurt public trust in the prosecution and erode it even further,” she said. “I won’t have the justice system hurt further on my account, so long as I’m able to prevent it.”

Ohana said he agreed public trust in the system was “the most important thing. That’s why I wanted to appoint Orly. I saw in her, alongside her professionalism and great experience, humility. That is what the prosecution needs.”

It was not immediately clear who would be Ohana’s next pick for the post. He said the nominee would require a great deal of courage. “I ask myself — who will agree to enter this inferno? They see how the system is run and how [officials] attack and slander in the media.”

Ohana announced Ginsberg Ben-Ari’s appointment as the country’s top prosecutor on Tuesday after Shai Nitzan left the post Monday.

Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing Israeli state attorney Shai Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Candidates for state attorney normally have higher seniority than Ginsberg Ben-Ari’s current level. Her selection to a temporary (though renewable) three-month position as state attorney drew intense criticism from the attorney general and others.

Ohana has been a vociferous critic of Nitzan and the state prosecution, accusing judicial authorities of conspiring to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on false or trumped-up charges.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the state attorney’s direct boss, came out against the appointment, saying Ohana had overstepped the bounds of his caretaker position in picking her.

And on Wednesday the High Court of Justice froze the appointment as it prepared to hear a petition that accused the caretaker justice minister of using it to obstruct the indictment and prosecution of Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, who by law must be consulted on the appointment, also came out against the move on procedural and organizational grounds, saying the reshuffle of the state prosecution’s hierarchy could “undermine” its procedures and hamper its ability to do its job.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press after announcing his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges, at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Ohana’s position as justice minister in a caretaker government also puts him on shaky and unclear legal grounds.

With no coalition in place since the 20th Knesset voted to dissolve itself in January, with two subsequent elections in April and September failing to produce a parliamentary majority coalition, Ohana serves as a caretaker justice minister who hasn’t, as required by law, been approved in a Knesset vote.

The decision to appoint Ginsberg Ben-Ari against Mandelblit’s wishes also runs counter to a longstanding practice, which sees the attorney general enjoy wide latitude in selecting the next state attorney.

Ohana, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, was appointed to the justice portfolio in June, by Netanyahu himself, and since then has spent time railing against the prime minister’s indictments, echoing in his rhetoric Netanyahu’s own claims of a conspiracy.

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