Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Justice Ministry on Thursday announced a list of 10 candidates to replace attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein when he steps down from one of the country’s most powerful positions in January 2016.
The attorney-general’s 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 Gal Hirsch’s push to be the next police chief). The prime minister nearly always falls in line with the decision.
The next attorney-general will be selected from the list by a five-member committee, which held its first meeting on August 26.
Heading the committee is former Supreme Court president Asher 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.
Two candidates who have been repeatedly named as leading candidates are cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Justice Ministry oversight czar Hila Gristol.
Mandleblit is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite, having worked with him for years. He has special expertise in international law, serving as the IDF magistrate advocate general during the 2008-9 Gaza war.
One factor working against Mandelblit is his involvement in the Harpaz affair. While he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Weinstein viewed Mandelblit’s delaying informing him about the Harpaz document as problematic. Some of the selection committee members may also view Mandelblit as too close to Netanyahu to act fully independently.
Gristol is 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.
A more recently added leading candidate is Eyal Yinon. The current Knesset legal adviser 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 Attorney-General Avi Licht, whom some have reported as Weinstein’s favorite (although he has remained silent publicly) and Raz Nizri are on the list, along with Herzliya Law School Dean Yishai Beer, who was also head of the IDF’s court system, former prime minister office bureau chief Yoram Torbovitz, former justice ministry director-general Guy Rothkopf, Prof. Suzie Navot and Prof. Ron Shapira.
A candidate must receive the votes of four out of the five panel members in order to be chosen, although typically the Israel Bar Association representative and the representative from academia – in this case, Katz and Shalev, respectively – are believed to have slightly less weight in the event of a dispute.
In the previous competition for attorney-general, the panel was split and deadlocked 3-2 on several candidates, forcing then-justice minister Yaakov Neeman to step in and pick Weinstein, who assumed his post in February 2010.