Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The powerful five-member committee for selecting the next attorney-general held its first meeting on Wednesday in a conference room at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court building.
Heading the committee is former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis; its other members are attorney Yehiel Katz, former justice minister Moshe Nissim, Likud MK Anat Berko and former UN ambassador Gabriella Shalev.
Current Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is slated to step down in January, and the state’s political power centers have been maneuvering for influence on the committee that will select his successor.
Some have called the position the most powerful office in the country, since the attorney-general can step in to almost any government decision, and once he declares an action illegal or vetoes a candidate for a high office, even the prime minister nearly always falls in line with the decision.
The expected candidates for the post are cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, Justice Ministry oversight czar Hila Gristol, and deputy attorneys-general Dena Zilber, Raz Nizri and Avi Licht.
Mandelblit is believed to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favored candidate, but Weinstein has been trying to thwart his candidacy due to the cabinet secretary’s alleged involvement in the Harpaz Affair – even though the case against him was eventually closed.
A candidate must receive the votes of four out of the five panel members in order to be chosen, though typically the Israel Bar Association representative and the representative from academia – in this case, Katz and Shalev, respectively – are believed to have slightly less weight in the event of a dispute.
Once the committee makes its decision, it will submit its candidate to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for approval.
In the last competition for attorney- general around six years ago, the panel was split and deadlocked 3-2 on several candidates, forcing then-justice minister Yaakov Neeman to step in and pick Weinstein.
A side controversy this time around is a reported ongoing bout between Shaked and Netanyahu over whether to split the powers of the attorney-general who succeeds Weinstein. Shaked would like to have one official heading the prosecution and a separate official advising the government on legal issues. However, Netanyahu reportedly opposes splitting these powers, saying it could have dangerous unintended consequences.
Most current and former top legal officials oppose the split as a threat to the attorney-general’s independence, but former justice minister Daniel Friedmann started promoting the idea in 2007, and many on the Right support it as a way to limit the attorney-general’s ability to intervene in settlement-related issues.