Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Friday strongly defended State Attorney Moshe Lador's public letter to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman criticizing the latter's plans to split the functions of the attorney-general and the State Attorney's Office.
Mazuz charged that those who attacked Lador - presumably including Neeman himself - were trying to divert the debate from substance to personalities.
"I wish to make it clear I do not accept the criticism against the state attorney and the charges to the effect that 'how can an appointed civil servant criticize the minister in charge of him and that this is like a general who criticizes the minister of defense,'" Mazuz said.
"These statements indicate a lack of understanding of the role of the state attorney. The state attorney is not answerable to the minister from a professional point of view. His powers to prosecute and appear in court were granted to him to protect the public interest.
"When a person in the position of state attorney, like other responsible public positions, thinks the public interest is about to be harmed, he not only has the right, but the obligation to warn against it."
Mazuz was speaking at the opening session of an annual conference sponsored by The Israel Forum for Law and Society and the Academic College-Netanya.
Neeman, who was not present during Mazuz's speech, said later that the attorney-general's views were known and beyond that he had no comment to make.
Mazuz added that Lador had expressed his opinion in internal ministry forums and in writing, "and the way to deal with his arguments is to address the substance and not turn it into a personal issue."
Mazuz said he was not against re-examining the roles of the attorney-general and the State Attorney's Office but this should not be done the way Neeman had done it.
"The minister contented himself with discrete consultations with various people. No one knows with whom he met, what he said, and what he heard. This type of consultation is insufficient regarding such an [important] issue."
Regarding the plan that Neeman presented to the media last week, Mazuz said it was "very general. The plan says there will be a division between the attorney-general and the chief prosecutor. The rest deals with the procedures for appointing the two office-holders.
"I don't think it can be called a plan. It does not answer an infinite number of very difficult questions regarding the implications of the program and how it intends to provide answers to a long list of questions."
Mazuz also charged that since April, Neeman's arguments for splitting the functions of the attorney-general kept changing. First he said it was necessary because of the conflict of interests integral to the position, then because of the heavy burden of work on the attorney-general and then the failure of the attorney-general to devote enough attention to the war against crime.
Mazuz said the charge that he could not devote enough attention to the war on crime was strange since it came at a time of major successes in that war. Furthermore, he warned that such massive changes in the structure of the State Attorney's Office was bound to weaken the campaign for a long time to come, since much energy would be diverted to the reorganization.
Regarding the implications of the change, Mazuz warned that the first thing that would happen was that the position of legal adviser to the government would be politicized and the government would appoint a pliable adviser.
The only reason this had not already happened even though there had been a recent attempt to do so was because the legal adviser was also the head of the prosecution and it was widely accepted that this position could not be political.
The consequence of having a politicized legal adviser was that no one would take him, or the ministry legal advisers who operate under him, seriously and the government would be free to do whatever it pleased unless stopped by the courts.
Many instances of corruption are too small to reach the courts, he noted.
"They are either stopped by the ministry legal advisers or they are not stopped at all," said Mazuz.
Furthermore, the two major tasks of the attorney-general, to prevent corruption in government and to fight organized crime, would collapse if the functions of the attorney-general were split.
"The powers of law enforcement, legal advice and legislation that are united in the powers of the attorney-general are crucial for the joint integrated functioning of the law enforcement and legal advice powers on the one hand, and the cooperation among all the enforcement authorities on the other," said Mazuz.
"This union of prerogatives under one central authority makes it possible to deal holistically and effectively with criminal actions as well as government corruption.
"Splitting the functions of the attorney-general and the separation between the criminal and the civil-economic-administrative functions of the current State Attorney's Office will cause serious damage to the cooperation between the various areas and systems. Without this integrated activity, all of the momentum in the struggle against the crime families and government corruption will be halted and we will go back to treading water."
With regard to the fight against government corruption, Mazuz said, "we must ask ourselves whether a weakened prosecution in the wake of the proposed split would be able to cope by itself with the wave of corruption of the past few years. The timing of the initiative to split the State Attorney's Office is troubling."