Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Monday recommended former top ministry official Gali Baharav-Miara as the next attorney-general to replace Avichai Mandelblit. She would become the first woman to serve in the post.
He said the cabinet would decide between Baharav-Miara and two other final candidates early next week. Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid are set to support Baharav-Miara as well, according to Hebrew media reports. However, given the context, Sa’ar’s recommendation is overwhelmingly expected to be decisive.
Baharav-Miara could enter office as early as Sunday or Monday next week.
“It is fitting to appoint a woman for the job for the first time in the state’s history,” Sa’ar said. “But I am not recommending appointing lawyer Baharav-Miara for this reason, but because she is the best and most fitting candidate and also has the most diverse and rich professional managerial experience.”
In a not-so-veiled reference to some of the other lead candidates, he said, “She made her way not in board-room meetings, but out ‘in the field,’ truly representing the different parts of the government.”
Some of the other top candidates were deputy attorneys-general, but spent less of their careers in courtrooms.
Baharav-Miara is a private-sector lawyer at Tadmor-Levy & Co., but she worked for more than three decades in the Justice Ministry. That included from 2006-2015, heading the Tel Aviv Civil Division, which has more than 200 employees and is the largest civil division in the country.
During that time, she handled a full range of civil issues, including labor disputes, land issues and defending against West Bank Palestinian civil lawsuits against the State of Israel.
Baharav-Miara was asked by the Justice Ministry and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in 2018 to write a legal brief on his behalf to defend against a war-crimes case in the Netherlands’ national court system.
In May 2019, she signed on to a public statement along with other top former Justice Ministry officials opposing initiatives to grant the Knesset an override of the Supreme Court, or to grant then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution based on his being head of the government.
Besides handling major cases in the private sector, since 2015 she has served on a number of state commissions.
During her army service from 1978-1980, she served in IDF Intelligence.
According to a Channel 12 report, she is married to Zion Miara, who in the past served in Israel’s defense establishment and now has ALS.
Baharav-Miara has three children and lives in Givatayim.
Late Sunday, the race to replace Mandelblit as attorney-general had entered the final stretch, with the Judicial Selection Committee narrowing the list to three candidates from which Sa’ar and the cabinet can choose.
The three candidates were Baharav-Miara, Deputy Attorney-General for International Affairs Roy Schondorf and Defense Ministry chief lawyer Itai Ofir.
Normally, the prime minister informally has de facto veto power, but with the split powers within the coalition, Sa’ar’s preference is expected to be even more decisive than the formal power he is already given as the intermediary between the committee and the cabinet.
For an extended period, Sa’ar’s preference had reportedly been Baharav-Miara. In a surprise, Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri, who had been at the top of the list recommended by Sa’ar along with Baharav-Miara on December 13, was left off the final list.
Following Sa’ar’s recommendation early Monday, it was reported that Nizri would quit his post, ending a distinguished career as the go-to deputy for Mandelblit and his predecessor Yehuda Weinstein.
Along with those candidates, others who made it to the second to last round included District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen, Prof. Ariel Bendor, Dr. Aviad Bakshi, former Knesset chief legal adviser Eyal Yinon and Hebrew University of Jerusalem Rector Barak Medina.
In his six years in office, Mandelblit had a decisive impact. He indicted former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shas Party leader Arye Deri and former UTJ leader and current MK Ya’acov Litzman. He influenced coronavirus policy, the Jewish Nation-State Law, the settlements, religion-and-state issues, the rule of law in general, and handled war-crimes charges from the International Criminal Court.
Former conservative chief justice Asher Grunis chairs the committee, which also includes conservative New Hope MK Zvi Hauser and moderate conservative and former justice minister Dan Meridor.
The other two members on the panel are Israel Bar Association representative Tami Olman and academic representative Ron Shapira. Olman is not known as being particularly conservative and has battled to defend the judiciary from attacks by former justice minister Amir Ohana.
Sa’ar previously appointed State Attorney Amit Aisman, who is not a candidate to receive the role permanently, on a temporary basis to fill Mandelblit’s shoes starting Tuesday and until a final candidate is approved by the cabinet.
Sa’ar is also seeking to split the powers of the attorney-general into two separate positions, something that most or all of the candidates are expected to agree to even if the Knesset itself does not pass new legislation.
Former state attorney Shai Nitzan has suggested multiple models in which the attorney-general could voluntarily yield some of his powers of prosecuting top ministers to the state attorney on this and other major policy issues.
Some have even criticized her selection, saying she might have been on a longer list but not on the final short list if Sa’ar had not decided to pluck a name out that was less well known and might be more beholden to him.
Though Baharav-Miara was quite senior in the Justice Ministry, there are at least a few Justice Ministry officials who have had higher national profiles.
It is unclear if Sa’ar has the votes in the Knesset to split the position since virtually all former attorneys-general, the Supreme Court and left-wing parties in the coalition are expected to oppose such a split.
Schondorf will continue in his post until at least April.
It was unknown if the latest developments would impact Ofir’s future career status at the Defense Ministry.