Controversy over firing of top justice ministry official continues

Sudden dismissal shook legal establishment

August 8, 2019 04:24
3 minute read.
MK Amir Ohana


The controversy over acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s surprising firing of the ministry’s director-general in late July continued on Wednesday, as Emi Palmor got her official send-off.

Though normally such official ceremonies are scripted and full of compliments, Ohana made extensive comments to defend his firing decision, which blindsided the legal establishment and much of the ministry.

He said that he has nothing against Palmor and values her service, but that it is standard for a new minister to select his own director-general.

Palmor herself made some jokes at Ohana’s expense, commenting that the way he had fired her had led to unprecedented praise for her at a level she never heard when she was still in office.
She also appeared to subtly push back against Ohana, sounding themes about defending the legal establishment’s centers for preserving the rule of law, even as the justice minister has made remarks undermining these same institutions.

Ohana has been replacing administrative staff in his bureau who worked for his predecessor, Ayelet Shaked, and technically Palmor is not guaranteed tenure.
However, since Ohana himself has only a temporary appointment dating back to June 4, it was surprising that he would fire a director-general – a position usually left in place as part of the professional staff of a ministry.

This was even more surprising, because Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has already issued a standard warning that even permanent ministers should not make major personnel or other changes pending upcoming elections.

Palmor herself survived the switch from Tzipi Livni to Ayelet Shaked around four years ago, the last time the baton was passed.

Finally, the director-general of the justice ministry is thought of as an even more professional career position (Palmor came from the bureaucracy of the ministry, not as a political appointee), and Palmor herself went out of her way to give an embracing welcome to Ohana at his recent inaugural ministry ceremony.

Many still expect Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to become justice minister on a permanent basis after the upcoming elections, as he was offered the job before Ohana, and turned it down only because he did not want a mere temporary appointment.

The justice minister has run into resistance from the Civil Service Commission about getting his replacement for Palmor installed, because of his “acting” status.

Ohana has already caused several shake-ups during his short time in office, having to qualify attacks on the Supreme Court and of his own ministry staff.

Shaked praised Palmor for her service to the state, when her firing was announced.

A spokesman for Blue and White as well as Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich condemned the firing at the time as an example of Ohana and the Likud running roughshod over the legal establishment and disregarding all precedents and norms.

The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel has filed a petition to the High Court of Justice to get Palmor reinstated.

On the flip side, Otzma Yehudit candidate and activist Itamar Ben-Gvir had praised Ohana for sending a message to the legal establishment that the new government would exercise its authorities and not be dictated to.

Some observers indicated that Ohana might be firing Palmor since it is one of the few significant actions he can take, given his limited status as an acting minister.
Whoever replaces Palmor will also sit on the key committee to pick a replacement for State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who steps down in December.

The same day that Palmor was fired, it was reported that Yair Netanyahu had sent out a tweet calling for Palmor’s firing, labeling her a leftist.

Multiple facts cited by Netanyahu in the tweet, including who Palmor worked for in the past and who appointed her, appeared to be incorrect.

With some accusing Netanyahu of interfering with ministry business, the Likud responded that “almost every new minister replaces the director – the opposite is the exception, not the rule. It is an integral part of proper governance and democracy.”

“A left-wing justice minister would have switched directors in two hours to insure his/her policies were executed.... Ohana decided to replace the ministry’s director a few weeks ago, and any claims trying to connect his decision with posts from two days ago are nothing more than fake news,” said the statement.

Palmor headed state commissions to combat racism – including dealing with the currently hot Ethiopian issue, the complex issues of Bedouin polygamy – defended Israel before UN committees and helped diversify the ministry’s employees.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, she called on Mandelblit to take the lead in healing rifts between the police and the Ethiopian community.

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