Vetting of potential new state attorney starts despite Likud opposition

There has been no permanent replacement since December 2019.

High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020 (photo credit: COURTESY HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE)
High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020
Faced with growing legal pressure and possibly even a petition to the High Court of Justice, Public Service Commission director Daniel Hershkovitz on Sunday approved moving forward with the vetting process for a new state attorney.
Pressuring Hershkovitz not to publish the search committee’s advertisement for the position has been seen as part of the process of blocking filling it. Publishing the opening is a prerequisite for the committee to start vetting candidates and eventually recommend one or more lead candidates to Nissenkorn and the cabinet.
Until Sunday, Nissenkorn had used the technical objection that one of the members of the committee lacks proper status, and that the committee could not move forward until this status issue was resolved.
The committee includes: Mandelblit, Hershkovitz, Israel Bar Association representative Rachel Toran, academic representative Prof. Oren Gazal Eyal and the Justice Ministry Director-General.
The problem is that currently, Sigal Yacobi is only an acting director-general.
Hershkovitz had claimed that the committee could not move forward until a permanent director-general was appointed.
Mandelblit sent Hershkovitz a letter at the end of last week, declaring that this was not a legal basis for holding up appointment of a new state attorney.
In addition, on Thursday night Mandelblit closed the “Stock Affair” probe against Netanyahu and reiterated he would not probe Netanyahu in Case 3000, the “Submarines Affair.”
It is possible that, along with Mandelblit’s letter saying that Yacobi’s status could not hold up the process (and likely threats from NGOs to petition the High Court), his decisions in favor of Netanyahu on Thursday may also have brought Hershkovitz to allow the publication of the search process to go forward.
Nissenkorn responded to the news saying, “this is the correct and necessary decision for the good of the citizens of Israel and for the proper functioning of law enforcement.”
Likewise, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded, “We promised and we followed through. The next step is to start the process for appointing a police chief.”
Hershkovitz said that he would reserve the right to halt the process if Yacobi’s status was not resolved before a final candidate was selected, but also made it clear that he was more likely to green-light the committee’s decision based on the extraordinary current circumstances.
The Likud has blocked Nissenkorn from appointing his preferred candidate to become permanent director-general of the Justice Ministry.
The state attorney will have influence over any potential plea bargain negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other issues after the verdict in his case, as well as decisions relating to criminal probes into Shas party leader Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism party leader Ya’acov Litzman, among other major pending issues.
Former state attorney Shai Nitzan stepped down in December 2019. There has been no permanent replacement since then, at first because of multiple rounds of elections and later because the Likud wanted to prevent Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) from appointing a candidate who they might oppose.
For a short period in early 2020, senior prosecutor Dan Eldad was acting state attorney, but for most of the period, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has filled the role.
The Likud has blocked the process from moving forward, fearing Nissenkorn and Mandelblit will dominate the five-person search committee and select someone who will go against their wishes in the Netanyahu, Deri and Litzman cases.
Normally, the committee makes a recommendation to the justice minister, who nominates a candidate for final approval by the cabinet, usually in coordination with the prime minister.
Nissenkorn is betting that once the committee approves a name, Netanyahu will find it difficult to reject the candidate inconsideration of public opinion.
On the other hand, Netanyahu can block the appointment under the coalition agreement and, if new elections are initiated in November or even December, the committee’s process could be frozen.
At press time the Likud had not responded to Hershkovitz other than indirectly, with leaks that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana was going to press to appoint a new police chief who would fit his and Netanyahu’s aspirations regarding law enforcement.
It was unclear if Gantz’s tweet was an assertion that his Blue and White party would try to weigh in heavily on the police chief or whether he was indirectly offering the appointment as a trade to the Likud for Nissenkorn getting to pick the new state attorney.