The attorney-general has “no veto over what is legal,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Wednesday at the Kohelet Forum Conference in Jerusalem.
His position is to be a legal adviser to his client, the government, the same way private lawyers advise their clients, she said.
The justice minister explained that this means that the government makes the final decision on whether it views an action as legal, not the attorney-general.
The issue is one constantly in dispute, with former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein disagreeing and viewing his role as defender of the law. Current Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit is closer to Shaked’s view, though he has vetoed some actions the government considered legal.
Mandelblit spoke to the conference by video, saying that “the rule of law does not mean the rule of the attorney-general.”
He said that his job is to try to find legal ways to facilitate government policy. At the same time, he expressed hope that the political class would internalize that the rule of law is a national priority and not just an issue for lawyers.
Shaked also said she is making behind-the- scenes progress on her initiative to eliminate selection committees for top nonpolitical posts such as attorney-general.
She claims that the committees infringe on the Knesset’s sovereignty as elected leaders to choose the appropriate candidates for top nonpolitical posts.
The justice minister cited Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar, two of the most famous attorney-generals and later Supreme Court presidents, as having been selected by the Knesset without the help of a selection committee.
The selection committee model was put into practice following a series of scandals in which it was revealed that there was open coalition horse trading over determining top posts that were supposed to be above politics.
But Shaked and many on the Right have been pushing for greater Knesset control over all legal appointments in order to rein in what they see as judicial activism and a legal-judicial apparatus that is sometimes tone-deaf to the Knesset’s or the government’s priorities.
At the same conference, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused the government of consistently using the Supreme Court and the attorney-general to justify not taking action. Lapid said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers have worked out a system whereby they purposely wait for the Supreme Court to reject their actions so the court could be blamed.
Among the examples he listed were the fate of the Amona outpost and the proposed egalitarian prayer site near the Western Wall. In both cases, the court gave the government time to take action, but the government sent the issues back to the court.
“The goal is to get the court blamed, to say the court evacuated Amona, so the government will not have to take responsibility,” Lapid said. “The political trick of using the court to avoid doing its work is not only chutzpah, it is also very destructive.”
Lapid said he is against judicial activism. But he said the Right’s protests against it have gone too far.
The Yesh Atid leader co-sponsored a bill allowing the expulsion of terrorists’ families.
He said he knew when he sponsored the bill that it went against the Geneva Conventions and that until his bill passed, such a step was illegal. But he said Netanyahu still wrote Mandelblit, publicly asking for his opinion on the matter during last year’s terrorism wave, even though the prime minister had asked the attorney-general personally two weeks earlier and was told there was no way to work around the law.
“The prime minister is saying that he knows how to significantly decrease terrorism, but saying that the court will not let him,” Lapid said.
“He is giving the public the impression that the court is preventing actions from being taken, that children and other innocent people will die, and that security will be harmed because the court won’t let him take steps. That is a dangerous charge the government is making, and a responsible government cannot do that.”