Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Sparks flew late on Monday as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked faced off against Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan over the role of unelected government officials in restraining the will of elected officials.
There is a “dangerous” phenomenon in Israel that “is not real democracy” in which “those who vote do not have influence” and “only bureaucrats who were never elected, decide,” Shaked said at the Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat.
In contrast, she said, “bureaucratic officials should help facilitate ministers’ wishes within the law.” Shaked said the words “within the law have been” taken out of control.
She accused some unelected government officials of doing extensive consultation among themselves and only involving ministers’ views in making policy as an afterthought at the end of the process.
Shaked alleged that Israel is an extreme example of bureaucratic officials’ power and that this does not happen on most other democratic countries. “Go check it,” she challenged.
While Mandelblit took a somewhat understated tone in responding and tried to argue that he directs his staff members to do all they can to move in the direction elected officials want, he did say that at some point his job was to be a gatekeeper for democracy.
“If you ignore the attorney-general, then you can bring in any other attorney-general. But the law is an exact specific system of principles. It binds the attorney-general’s hands. There is no other way to ensure the rule of law in a state,” Mandelblit said.
“Governing in a democracy means the elected representatives can realize their wishes of the majority within the limits of the law. Democracy is not just elections, it is also protecting basic rights.”
Nitzan responded more aggressively. Turning directly to Shaked he said, “I see being a bureaucratic official as something to be proud of as true service, the servers of the public.”
He added making sure that minister act “in line with the law is not a bad word, but a praiseworthy one. The law comes from lessons of past failures. This is not us undermining politicians, it is a value and all elected officials and bureaucratic officials are obligated to the law.”
Earlier on Monday, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor tried to bury the hatchet with Shaked in their ongoing war over judicial appointments, complimenting Shaked and her work in appointing 200 judges jointly.
Naor also said that her inclusion of outsider lawyers in training courses for new judges had burst the allegation that the judicial establishment was using the courses to vet and eliminate judges with conservative views from gaining judicial positions.
Finally, on both Monday and Tuesday, Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Sharon Afek answered questions at the conference about his prosecution of the so-called “Hebron shooter,” Elor Azaria, and of the probe into Gaza’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge.
He said prosecuting Azaria “was the right call” and that “we won’t avoid 2014 Gaza war crimes prosecutions where they are necessary.”