Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit in his first appearance at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee since assuming the country’s top legal position in February.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday discussed a range of hot-button issues in his first major briefing to the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee since assuming the country’s top legal position in February.
An issue he repeatedly returned to was fleshing out the dilemma in which he wears two “hats” as both the head of the state prosecution and the government’s head legal adviser.
Some, especially on the Right, want to split up the attorney-general’s powers as top prosecutor and top legal adviser into two separate offices.
They claim the single office is too much power for one individual to possess and that the different roles can come into conflict.
Mandelblit said he is vehemently against splitting the attorney-general powers into separate offices.
He explained that though he thinks there is nothing illegal about splitting the attorney- general’s powers, there is no need for it. Moreover the division could have unintended consequences, and would be perceived by many as aimed at weakening law enforcement.
This perception, in and of itself, would be highly destructive, he added.
Fielding questions from the numerous Knesset members in attendance, Mandelblit discussed the “Yitzhaki Document,” named for the police’s Investigations and Intelligence Branch Asst. Ch. Meni Yitzhaki.
The report, a compilation of all allegations against politicians, was compiled on his orders in 2014. When the document’s existence was made public last month, it triggered angry bipartisan protests against the idea that the police could be systematically collecting information about Knesset members which, in a worst case scenario, could be abused to blackmail or purge lawmakers.
The attorney-general said, “It is true that I did not know about its [the document’s] existence. On the day that its existence was published, I cleared my schedule because I thought that this was the most important issue to clarify – that there had not been any affirmative collection of information.”
“There is an explanation for everything which appears in the document. After I review how it came about, I will publish information to the public,” both to settle the waters and to ensure that such a secret document is not prepared in the future without oversight by my office,” he said.
Moving on to the Hebron shooter trial, MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) asked Mandelblit if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s telephone call to the parents of the soldier, Elor Azaria, on trial for manslaughter of a neutralized Palestinian terrorist, improperly undermined the law enforcement process against Azaria.
The Attorney-General responded, “In my opinion, the discussion did not fall within the category of an intervention into the legal process. To the best of my knowledge, the prime minister did not say not to conduct a judicial proceeding.
The Military Advocate General is strong and independent.
The MAG performs his work faithfully and the system is functioning superbly.”
Stern noted that even if Netanyahu did not explicitly undermine the IDF judges weighing the soldier’s innocence and guilt, by phoning the accused soldier’s parents, he had effectively taken Azaria’s side.
Under questioning from MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), Mandelblit dived into some of the most controversial laws that the Knesset has passed or is considering.
While prefacing that he needed to be careful not to intervene in politics, he said, “I was not enthusiastic and even the opposite” regarding the expulsion law on track to being passed, and the recently enacted NGO law.
He added, “I have said there are hard legal issues” with each one and that Basic Laws are “a big deal, and you cannot pass them if they are unconstitutional.”
At the same time, he said his job, where possible, is to find legal ways for the government to advance its policy goals.
The Attorney-General also addressed the ongoing debate over whether to reduce, split or expand the powers of the Justice Ministry oversight czar – a post currently unoccupied after Hila Gerstl resigned in protest at a lack of support from former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein and from the Knesset.
Mandelblit said he is in favor of all levels of oversight. He even favors publishing Gerstl’s controversial and final draft report on the state’s alleged mishandling of its forensics experts’ reports.