(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, along with multiple former attorney-generals, sounded a sharp alarm on Thursday at an Israel Bar Association conference in Haifa that new bills being proposed in the Knesset will harm the country’s democracy and bring down its gatekeepers.
Mandelblit listed off several new bills that concerned him, such as those limiting prosecution of a sitting prime minister; barring the attorney-general from appearing in the High Court of Justice in opposition to state policy; giving greater control to politicians in the appointment of ministry lawyers; and blocking police from publicizing indictment recommendations for public officials.
Mandelblit told conference attendees: “When you start to weaken these institutions and to harm them, you harm the entire democracy. It is very sad that lately we see more and more of these bills. We see not one or two bills, but a group of bills to bring down the gatekeepers of the law.
“The combination of all of them is a big problem which can... harm human rights and equality before the law. They do not increase governing stability, they harm it,” he continued. “The way to increase governing stability is to guard the law.”
Former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir, who also attended the conference, expressed similar sentiments, saying, “There never was an environment that was so rough and hostile to all of the gatekeepers, to anyone who is trying to perform oversight of the government to maintain proper and legal administrative practices.”
He added that “there is no gatekeeper who does not personally” feel pressured and attacked.
Former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, Mandelblit’s immediate predecessor, in his first major appearance since retiring, echoed the above positions, though with what seemed to be slightly less concern.
One source of controversy at the conference was an exchange between Zamir and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Questioned by a conference moderator about whether or not it was appropriate for her to publicly call for the prosecution to question Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff, Shaked said she cannot force the prosecution to investigate and has as much of a right as any citizen to express her views.
Zamir disagreed, saying that even if a prosecutor is able to perform his or her job in a professional manner and is not influenced by her public pressure, the fact that administratively Shaked is a prosecutor’s superior makes such pressure “improper and hurts the public’s faith in the gatekeepers.”
On a related note, Mandelblit rejected as “baseless” all criticism of his office as having acted politically in its handling of the Breaking the Silence case, and said that his office would review any new evidence brought to light by the group.
Also at the conference, newly installed Supreme Court President Esther Hayut gave a rousing pitch to recommit to better inculcation of democratic values through the country’s education system.
She quoted David Ben-Gurion in saying that “the existence of the State of Israel and its future are dependent on the rule of law and the rule of democracy.”