Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit handed out a stern rebuke to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in a public letter on Wednesday for her statement that she could ban one of his top deputies from appearing at government functions.
Mandelblit and Shaked work particularly hard to coordinate their positions; even when they have differences of opinion, the attorney-general has worked hard to mitigate any public blowback against Shaked.
The relationship is a complex one, as Shaked led the process to appoint Mandelblit and politically is his superior, but the attorney-general has powers independent of the justice minister as the executive branch’s supreme legal official.
Reverberating beyond the attorney-general and the justice minister, the fight over what authority Shaked has over Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber spread into the Knesset plenum, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and opposition MKs laying into each other on the issue.
Late Tuesday night, Shaked called on Mandelblit to fire Zilber for her public comments against the government’s “cultural loyalty bill”
and other recent laws opposed by the legal establishment as impinging on the rule of law and civil rights.
The bill would allow government funds to be withheld from cultural institutions deemed insufficiently loyal to the state in a series of specific categories, such as undermining the state’s validity.
More significantly to Mandelblit, Shaked said she had decided that Zilber would no longer be allowed to represent the government position in the Knesset or in other government forums, alleging that she had displayed personal bias and that she should join an opposition political party.
With uncharacteristic terseness, Mandelblit answered back on Wednesday that Shaked exceeded her authority and has no control over Zilber’s public appearances. Rather, Mandelblit said that he, and he alone, decides who will represent the attorney-general’s office in government forums.
Regarding the issue of Zilber’s status, Mandelblit said he had not reached a decision and was studying the issue.
The fight has put Mandelblit in an awkward position. Though he and Zilber have had harsh internal disagreements and he has been annoyed at the extent of her opposition to government bills, he does not want to appear to be giving up the independence of the legal establishment to the political echelon.
Following Mandelblit’s letter, The Jerusalem Post learned that he and Shaked had reached a temporary, informal understanding regarding Zilber’s appearances in the Knesset or public forums until her final status is decided.
Mandelblit agreed that Zilber would need his explicit permission to be sent to such forums until her status is decided, which implies that she will not be sent.
Responding sharply to criticism of Shaked in a speech in the Knesset on Wednesday, Bennett said, “I hear a community of whiners. What are you saying? Why are you complaining? After 40 years, the Right was voted in, and you’re complaining. The Right controls academia, education and legislation. We control everything,” he said.
“You want to continue complaining? We’re done with the right wing where people vote for the Right and actually receive the Left,” Bennett added. “Now, when you vote for the Right, you get the Right! The public will decide!”
Earlier Wednesday, MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) attacked Shaked in the Knesset. “Take your hands off of Dina Zilber!” she said. “You and Bennett and Smotrich are trying to pass antidemocratic and anti-constitutional legislation. Today it’s Zilber, tomorrow it’s the attorney-general himself.”
The Knesset debate followed a no-confidence vote proposed by the Meretz Party, sparked by Shaked’s call for Zilber’s firing.
Mandelblit, Zilber and her legislative affairs office were also due to have an emergency meeting later Wednesday to address the spat with Shaked and the department’s status. Her office previously had some issues transferred to a different office after a prior disagreement with Mandelblit.
Also, later on Wednesday Shaked appeared at TheMarker conference and asserted that regardless of Mandelblit’s letter, she was getting her way since, in practice, the attorney-general was not going to let Zilber make additional public appearances on behalf of his office.
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