Coalition deal keeps Amir Ohana’s state attorney in place

Who controls Dan Eldad going forward?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit faces a decision that not only will determine his career, but also the trajectory of the state. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit faces a decision that not only will determine his career, but also the trajectory of the state.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The coalition deal signed between Blue and White and Likud on Monday is expected to keep Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad in office for another six months, despite fierce opposition from his direct boss Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
Mandelblit’s office was not consulted on the issue and it is unclear whether Blue and White gave this specific position any thought or whether it was simply wrapped into the general idea of freezing all non-political top roles for six months due to the coronavirus crisis.
This was unexpected since Eldad fast-tracked a decision to criminally investigate Gantz’s former business partners less than 10 days before the March 2 election, an issue which some say may have shifted some crucial votes to the Likud down the stretch.
The truth is that many of the temporary appointments, such as acting Police Chief Moti Cohen, have been serving now for close to 18 months and are not viewed as political appointments anymore.
In contrast, Eldad was pushed through by outgoing justice minister Amir Ohana on February 5 after months of fighting with Mandelblit.
When Mandelblit formally withdrew his opposition, it was not as much because he had come around to accepting Eldad, as much as exhaustion from the battle. Around the time Mandelblit gave up his nearly two-month battle with Ohana over who would be acting state attorney – essentially Mandelblit’s number two until a new government was formed – the attorney-general had at least six other public disputes with the ruling coalition.
Around a month before the March 2 election, Mandelblit was under attack for supporting Israeli-Arabs to run despite anti-IDF statements, for delaying annexations in the West Bank, for vetoing Ohana’s new commission probing the police, for indicting ex-coalition chairman David Bitan, for trying (and failing) to indict Likud MK Haim Katz, and for filing an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 28 – the same day the premier dropped his immunity bid.
Having blocked a less qualified candidate whom the whole legal community had opposed, Mandelblit’s firewall was also breaking down regarding Eldad, who had support from former Deputy Chief Justice Elyakim Rubinstein (Eldad had worked for him) and even the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, which usually sides with the attorney-general against the Likud.
Mandelblit did not object to Eldad’s qualifications: He was in the top tier of prosecutors even if he might have not made the top five. It was the idea that Eldad would be beholden to Ohana. But the A-G decided he would stop battling in the hope that he would be rid of Eldad by May under a new government.
It was also surprising that Eldad was given another six months, since normally he would only have been extended for another three months.
It may be that Eldad’s extension may be less controversial with the attorney-general since, with Ohana out of the picture, there is a clear deadline for his removal if he does not please Mandelblit and incoming justice minister Avi Nissenkorn.
In addition, Eldad will have no role in the Netanyahu trial, as the indictment was filed and the prosecution team set before he took office.
Mandelblit also made it clear when Eldad was appointed that he could not take even minor actions related to the Netanyahu trial without clearing them with Mandelblit.
The attorney-general had initially objected to Eldad’s appointment, not only to avoid him being beholden to Ohana and Netanyahu, but also because Ohana himself was only a transitional justice minister – and in the normal course of things, the attorney-general dominates the selection of his main number two.
Mandelblit opposed Ohana getting more power and pushing him aside because of the technicality that in the absence of a permanent government, there can be no selection committee run by the attorney-general.
In addition, during the corona crisis, Mandelblit froze cases relating to Shas Party leader Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, so he may not be aggravated by Eldad delaying decisions in those cases. In Deri’s case, Eldad’s predecessor Shai Nitzan already recommended an indictment in August 2019.