State prosecutor pick ‘smells like a fixed game’
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State prosecutor pick ‘smells like a fixed game’

Right-leaning NGO petitions High Court over Shai Nitzan’s impending appointment as state attorney

Shai Nitzan, center, speaking to the press in 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Shai Nitzan, center, speaking to the press in 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A right-leaning NGO filed a petition Thursday against the appointment of a deputy attorney general, Shai Nitzan, who has been pilloried by Israel’s right for aggressively prosecuting radical members of the settler movement, as Israel’s next state attorney.

The “Movement for Governance and Democracy,” a group which describes itself as an advocate for “governmental fairness and transparency,” urged the High Court of Justice to reexamine the process for appointing Nitzan to the post of state attorney, effectively Israel’s top prosecutor, after his was the sole name recommended for the post by a special search committee headed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The group demanded that Nitzan’s nomination, which still requires a cabinet vote to formally appoint him to the post, be brought to a Knesset vote instead, Channel 10 News reported.

The group claimed that the nomination process was not sufficiently democratic, as only one nominee had been selected by the committee for cabinet approval.

“The committee presented for government approval only one candidate, thus preventing elected officials from fulfilling their duties” of actually selecting a nominee among several qualified candidates, a statement issued by the group read.

“The search committee has become a nomination committee overnight, and we take that very seriously,” the statement continued.

“The process smells like a fixed game. This situation, in which decision makers submit to the dictates of a search committee without being able to perform their duties, damages the public’s trust in the legal system, and is a slap in the face of Israeli democracy,” it concluded.

The NGO stressed its position did not stem from an objection to Nitzan’s professional record during his tenure as deputy attorney general.

Dina Silber, another deputy attorney general, responded Thursday to a similar petition filed by another group, saying that the committee’s nomination of only one candidate was vital to the process.

“Given the centrality of the state attorney in the enforcement of the law, there is a special importance attached to [the post’s] independence and impartiality,” Silber wrote.

“Under these circumstances, a stronger justification arises for the search committee to nominate only one candidate,” as offering up further candidates increased the danger that the appointment would be politicized.

The High Court has given the state one day, until Friday morning, to offer a response to the petition against Nitzan’s nomination.

Nitzan is set to replace Moshe Lador, who will conclude a six-year term in December. Nitzan will also serve for six years if he is approved.

Nitzan was nominated in a majority decision by the five-member selection panel headed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, and was selected from a final pool of four candidates.

In announcing the nomination, which came after about seven hours of deliberation, Weinstein said the committee was not swayed by a right-wing media campaign opposing Nitzan’s nomination.

On Tuesday, Nitzan told Ynet that it was “a great honor” to be nominated, but that he would “patiently wait” for final approval before taking up the “important and serious” position.

If he is approved, Nitzan will lead the office that represents the government and the State of Israel in litigation, and oversee the national system of district attorneys.

Nitzan is known for representing the state in numerous criminal trials against extremists from the settler movement, and as a result has been the subject of heavy criticism and threats from some elements on the right who have vowed to work to block his nomination.

According to Ynet, Nitzan, who has served as head of special cases in the State Prosecutor’s Office, was the official who approved placing Mossad spy Ben Zygier in solitary confinement. Zygier, until recently known as “Prisoner X,” committed suicide in his cell in 2010, with the high-profile case coming out into the open earlier this year.

Nitzan, 54, is a graduate of the Hebrew University and a former paratrooper. He is a Jerusalem native and a father of five.

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