Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit was named as the only candidate for the powerful position of attorney-general Sunday, by a selection committee.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had asked that the committee provide her and the cabinet with three names to be considered for replacing Yehuda Weinstein, whose six-year term ends at the end of January.
The choice of Mandelblit was not surprising, in that he was known to be both Shaked’s and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first choice and because the committee in past years had usually only submitted one candidate to the justice minister – meaning Shaked’s request for three candidates was unusual and not legally binding.
Shaked, Netanyahu and the cabinet have final approval over the candidate for attorney- general and could push back, but that is not expected since Mandelblit was their top choice.
The attorney-general’s immense power derives from the fact that he or she can intercede in almost any government decision, declare an action illegal and veto candidates for high office (Weinstein recently indirectly ended Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch’s push to be the next chief of the Israel Police). The prime minister nearly always falls in line with the decision.
Mandelblit has worked closely with Netanyahu for years. He has special expertise in international law, serving as the IDF military advocate-general during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008-9.
That close relationship drew sharp criticism from opposition lawmakers.
Former justice minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that “Mandelblit is a worthy person, but it is inappropriate that a cabinet secretary move to the job of attorney-general without a cooling-off period. The cabinet secretary is appointed by the prime minister and his job is to be the prime minister’s right hand...The attorney-general is someone who, among other things, must make decisions about the prime minister’s and other ministers’ behavior, and, if necessary, indict them if they break the law.”
According to Livni, an attorney-general must be free of from any personal or political connections to ministers.
Similarly, MK Yousef Jabarin (Joint List) said he is “disturbed by the situation created in which the attorney-general, chosen with the prime minister’s support, will do the government’s will and not be an independent counsel.”
MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) took issue with the selection committee’s decision, saying that the result was obvious in the first place.
“The fact that the committee did not decide to recommend at least one of the two appropriate women, retired judge [and Justice Ministry oversight czar] Hila Gristol or Professor Suzie Navot, who were candidates for the job, shows that it was not a real contest,” Swid said. “The choice of one candidate, who happens to be the prime minister’s preferred candidate, was expected and disappointing.”
At the same time, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is not a Netanyahu ally, praised Mandelblit, writing on Twitter: “He is an excellent jurist, an honest man with values who is loyal to the rule of law. He is appropriate for the job of attorney-general. The prime minister’s support for his candidacy is legitimate.”
In September, the Justice Ministry announced a list of 10 candidates to replace Weinstein when he steps down.
The ministry’s oversight “czar” Hila Gristol and Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon had been mentioned repeatedly as serious contenders, along with several other top-notch candidates among those currently serving as deputies to Weinstein, as well as from outside of the ministry.
The five-member committee held its first meeting on August 26.
Heading the panel is former Supreme Court president Asher D. Grunis. Other members include former justice minister Moshe Nissim, Likud MK Anat Berko, former UN ambassador Gabriella Shalev and Israel Bar Association representative Yechiel Katz.
One factor observers had seen as working against Mandelblit was his involvement in the Harpaz affair. While he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Weinstein viewed Mandelblit’s delay in informing him about the Harpaz document as problematic. Also, some thought the selection committee members might view Mandelblit as too close to Netanyahu to act with full independence.
Gristol had been believed to have strong support among some committee members, but has been passed over for other top positions in the past and her oversight of the Justice Ministry, while a plus in some corners, is controversial in others.
Yinon is respected by many groups, and is viewed by key members in the government as willing to let the state take controversial actions, even where he disagrees, as long as he has expressed his opposition in principle.
Deputy Attorneys-General Avi Licht, who some have reported as Weinstein’s first choice (although he has remained silent publicly), and Raz Nizri were on the list, along with Herzliya Law School Dean Yishai Beer, who was also head of the IDF’s court system; prime minister Ehud Olmert’s former bureau chief Yoram Turbowitz; former Justice Ministry director-general Guy Rothkopf; Prof. Suzie Navot; and Prof. Ron Shapira.