Deputy state attorneys Liat Ben-Ari and Nurit Litman were angered by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision Wednesday to reverse course and back a controversial candidate for acting state attorney, according to a Thursday report.
Mandelblit announced that he would not oppose Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s selection for the position, Dan Eldad. The move marked a reversal for Mandelblit, who had initially opposed the appointment for reasons that were not made clear.
Ben-Ari and Litman were both reportedly on a shortlist Mandelblit had prepared for Ohana of candidates he believed could fill the position, but were not selected.
Ben-Ari and Litman on Thursday withdrew from a WhatsApp group chat of the most senior members of the state prosecution in frustration on Wednesday, the report said. It included a screenshot purporting to show the pair’s departure. The source for the information was not provided.
Litman serves as Deputy State Attorney for Special Assignments, and Ben-Ari as Deputy State Attorney for Financial Enforcement. Ben-Ari is the lead prosecutor in the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Eldad currently serves as the director of the Economic Crimes Division of the State Prosecution, which specializes in investigating and prosecuting high-level corruption in government and large corporations. It is also responsible for the most complex cases of financial fraud.
Mandelblit, in a letter to the state attorney’s office Thursday, said: “In my capacity as head of the law enforcement system, I decided — not without hesitation — that in the current state of affairs, the public interest in preventing further injury to the state attorney’s office requires that I not oppose the appointment of Attorney Eldad for the time being.”
The state attorney position became vacant when Shai Nitzan concluded his five-year term in December.
Ohana’s last attempt to appoint an acting state attorney — choosing Tel Aviv District economic crimes prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari in December — fell through when Ginsberg Ben-Ari withdrew her candidacy following intense criticism of her selection, including by the attorney general.
Mandelblit had insisted Ohana’s authority to appoint key officials is limited because he serves as a caretaker minister in an unelected government. Ohana was appointed to his post by Netanyahu in June, after the indecisive April election and ahead of the equally inconclusive September race.
The attorney general initially opposed Eldad’s appointment though the reasoning for his opposition was not made clear. According to the Calcalist paper, Mandelblit offered Ohana seven names of candidates acceptable to him, which did not include Eldad.
Mandelblit had suggested Ohana appoint one of the deputy state attorneys to the temporary post, and said his preference was Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Law Shlomo Lamberger, the longest-serving member of that echelon.
Ohana, meanwhile, has insisted that Mandelblit’s opposition to his appointments is an example of the runaway powers of the state legal bureaucracy, which he says should not flout the will of elected officials.
Likud’s Ohana, a loyalist of Netanyahu, took office by launching a scathing diatribe against the state prosecution in defense of the premier, who has been charged by Mandelblit with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases.