Peering into the complex mind of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is no easy task.
He is not what you would expect. He rarely speaks in any fashion to the media. But possibly because of his strong personality or his decades as one of the country’s top defense lawyers who needed to, if necessary, outpace his opponents to score points in court, he speaks at an unusually fast speed. He is surprisingly animated, has unusual confidence in his eloquence and seldom finds it necessary to correct his choice of words.
Those close to him say he can deftly defend all the tough decisions he has made, and he has no problem sleeping at night.
Born in Tel Aviv on April 19, 1944, he was an outstanding athlete and national boxing champion in his youth, served in the Paratroop Brigade and studied law at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities.
After working for the State Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor, he set up his own law firm, representing some high-profile clients, including Ezer Weizman, Arye Deri, Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu.
He was appointed attorney- general in February 2012, replacing Menahem Mazuz.
Married to Aviva, he lives in Herzliya Pituah and has three adult children.
Out of a 41-page “summary” of his major decisions (those close to him said he joked that such a summary was “short”), his proudest achievements seem to be his appointments, including that of new State Attorney Shai Nitzan in December (which his critics tried hard to derail).
If you were to ask Weinstein about his appointments, he would tell you that they would be among the best lawyers in the country.
He would of course note that the panel appointing people to top Justice Ministry positions is an independent panel of five people. But those close to him say he would probably add, matter- of-factly, that the attorney- general as head of the panel has no small sway over the others.
Nitzan is said to be “super brilliant,” and even those who were against him cannot deny this, which Weinstein apparently takes as an indication that he picked the best possible candidate for the job.
Another achievement Weinstein is clearly proud of is establishing a new body (which is just starting to function) to provide oversight on actions by the State Attorney’s Office.
You get the impression from Weinstein that rallying agreement or at least toleration of the oversight body from the state attorney rank and file was a hard fight.
It would appear Weinstein would to some extent sympathize with their argument that they had already been among the most inspected government agencies, facing judges and newspaper reporters daily, along with oversight from the state comptroller, the Israel Bar Association and others.
Still, Weinstein would tell you that despite all of that, the new oversight body was a key chance to strengthen the public’s faith in the Justice Ministry.
Not that he views the oversight body as ideal.
Those close to him add that he said that in an imaginary scenario where the public had video cameras following all of the Justice Ministry’s work so that it could omnisciently see everything it does and how it operates, there would be no need for such an oversight body.
In that imaginary scenario, he would say that the public would clearly see the lawyers’ high quality and that their decisions are apolitical and not related to being pro-Right or pro-Left, pro-Arab or pro- Jew.
On maintaining the balance between the fight against organized crime and civil liberties, most say Weinstein sounds even more adamant in person than in his released press statements.
An interesting piece of this relates to one of the (at least in public) most raw debates between Weinstein and another top government official: the debate between Weinstein and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch over whether to use administrative detention against organized crime figures.
Administrative detention has many meanings, but in this context it means being held in custody without a standard trial.
Aharonovitch repeatedly and publicly pressed for administrative detention, ignoring clear initial rejections by Weinstein, who said that its use was illegal for anything other than a specific category of terrorists who were national security threats.
One might have expected Weinstein to come off as exhausted by the issue, having withstood a public verbal barrage from the less than subtle Aharonovitch. But Weinstein is as immovable in his principles on this issue as with others. There was no question in his mind that it would never happen, and one of the reasons was his assertiveness on the issue.
From Weinstein’s perspective, all countries have organized crime problems, but not a single one – even among the minority that do at least use administrative detention on national security issues – has used it for organized crime, and Israel will not be the first.
Weinstein also views such a change as a slippery slope that could fundamentally shift the balance negatively on law enforcement’s respect for civil liberties.
Those close to him say that in his view, Aharonovitch has dropped the issue and even understands his point of view.
Weinstein thinks that if Aharonovitch makes any further statements on the issue, they would merely be for public relations to reaffirm he is tough on fighting crime.
Weinstein would also emphasize that there are a myriad of other ways to escalate the fight against organized crime, with most of them involving clever uses of technology, intelligence and complimentary tax and licensing authorities to ensnare crime figures indirectly.
In the area of the constitutionality of the new historic law for resolving the issue of integrating haredim into the IDF and national service, Weinstein’s views are nuanced.
He would clearly view the new law as a very positive development, and despite acknowledging that not all aspects of the law are equal, the impression he gives is a serious readiness to defend it.
The readiness to defend it appears to come from the sense that as transformative as the law is, not every issue of equality in this area can be solved at once, and resolving some pieces may require baby steps or an incremental approach.
Earlier drafts of the law had received heavy objections from Weinstein on the length of delay for some haredim to serve in the IDF, on the shorter service by religious- Zionist men (17 months versus 36 months) and on religious-Zionist women being able to, wholesale, choose national service over IDF service.
But the impression is that many of Weinstein’s objections were incorporated in the final bill, which moved more toward equality on all of those issues, due to his intervention.
Weinstein is now hopeful that the High Court of Justice will accept the new legislation, having struck down the last law that regulated this area – the Tal Law.
This is the first of a series of articles on The Jerusalem Post’s insider coverage of the attorney-general.