Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The government unanimously approved on Sunday the appointment of current cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit as the country’s 14th attorney-general, replacing Yehuda Weinstein who has served for the last six years.
The appointment, to go into effect on February 1, is also for six years.
Within minutes of the appointment, two NGOs – the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and Ometz – filed petitions to the High Court of Justice to stop the appointment because of what they called serious flaws in the selection process, including the fact that the appointments committee suggested only one candidate for the prestigious and influential job, and not three candidates as it was mandated to do.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed Mandelblit as his cabinet secretary in 2013, said at the meeting that he was a “very worthy candidate.”
Prior to serving as cabinet secretary, Mandelblit served some 27 years in the IDF Military Advocate-General’s Corps, serving as a military prosecutor, public defender, judge and – from 2004 to 2011 – as military advocate-general. He holds a PhD in law from Bar-Ilan University, having written a thesis on legal warfare, and accumulated much experience in the subject while defending the IDF in 2009 against allegations of war crimes leveled by the UN’s Goldstone Committee.
Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting that as Israel is engaged in an ongoing battle over international law – with the country coming under “one-sided, distorted, false” legal attacks – it is beneficial to have someone with Mandelblit’s experience in international law as attorney-general.
“The attorney-general also needs to be able to direct our legal system in the struggle with international law, and he has a huge and clear advantage in this that will be needed in the coming years,” Netanyahu said.
Mandelblit thanked Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and cabinet ministers for their confidence, and said he would work “tirelessly to continue to bolster the rule of law in Israel.”
While the Justice Ministry in September announced a list of 10 candidates to replace Weinstein, the selection committee named only Mandelblit when it released its recommendations on December 20. Shaked had asked the selection committee to give her three names.
That the committee only came back with one candidate was not surprising, as Mandelblit was considered both Netanyahu’s and Shaked’s first choice. His candidacy raised some eyebrows, however, both because of his involvement in the Harpaz Affair – in which he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, though with harsh criticism from Weinstein – and because he was seen as too close to Netanyahu. He also received the appointment without a “cooling off” period following his job as cabinet secretary, though the law does not mandate such an interval for cabinet secretaries.
Shaked praised the approval of Mandelblit and described what she hoped to achieve with his appointment, stating, “From my work with Dr. Mandelblit, I am sure that he will be a professional and independent attorney-general who will allow the government to carry out its policies within the law.”
The justice minister has sounded off against the legal establishment for, as she sees it, interfering too often with government policies; she has wanted an attorney-general who would intervene less frequently.
The five-member appointments committee was headed by former Supreme Court president Asher D. Grunis. Other members included former justice minister Moshe Nissim, Likud MK Anat Berko, former UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev and Israel Bar Association representative Yechiel Katz.
The potential issues were not enough to dissuade the appointments committee, which voted 4-1 to support him, with Grunis casting the dissenting vote.
The attorney-general’s immense power derives from the fact that he can intercede in almost any government decision, declare an action illegal and veto candidates for high office.
The prime minister nearly always falls in line with the decision.