Less than five years after he approved her appointment, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced Tuesday that he had started the process of searching for a replacement for Knesset Legal Adviser Nurit Elstein.
Although relations between Elstein and Rivlin have frequently been tense, hostility increased in recent weeks in the course of a fiery exchange over special arrangements for disabled MK Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu).
Rivlin released a terse statement announcing that he had begun to assemble a search committee to find the next Knesset legal adviser. The Knesset speaker recently turned to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch to ask her to appoint a retired judge to head the committee, as is required by law.
Elstein's appointment is slated to end when she reaches age 65 in April 2010, but Rivlin's office hopes the committee will finish the selection process and that a replacement will already be in office by January 2010. The law allows the appointment of Elstein's replacement as early as 90 days before she is slated to leave, and Rivlin's office is pushing for the replacement to take over as soon as legally possible.
Rivlin has asked that the committee begin proceedings no later than September so it can deliver its recommendations by December.
In addition to the retired judge at the committee's helm, members of the committee will include Knesset House Committee chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima), Civil Service commissioner Shmuel Hollander and the chairman of the Israel Bar Association, as well as a representative from one of the country's law faculties.
Elstein was not Rivlin's top choice for the position when she was appointed in 2006, during Rivlin's previous term as Knesset speaker. When he left the post following Kadima's 2006 election victory, he did not spare ammunition in vocalizing his dissatisfaction with Elstein's appointment.
Now, less than three months after Rivlin's return to the Knesset helm, tensions between the two have heated up once again. The latest fight concerned a request by Matalon, a disabled veteran confined to a wheelchair, to be allowed to employ a driver to assist him in his travels across the country.
Rivlin initially acceded to the request, but at the beginning of the month, Elstein announced that she opposed the decision and, according to Rivlin, attempted to overrule it.
Rivlin responded in a fiery missive, accusing her of "humiliating Matalon with questions that are not within the parameters of your legal jurisdiction or professional responsibility" and that in "causing him to be embarrassed by the fact that he even asked for assistance from the Knesset management - caused embarrassment to the Knesset as an institution."
Rivlin told Elstein that "I do not intend to let you manage the Knesset management." He accused her of changing her opinions at will and said that there were "worrying gaps between different legal opinions that were given during different periods to different people, that speak for themselves."
Elstein has appeared recently in headlines after eyebrows were raised over her legal opinions allowing former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik's home improvements. She also raised her own eyebrows at the government's Economic Arrangements Bill, offering her opinion last week that the bill was too large and unwieldy and contained few clauses relevant to the budget.