High Court hints it will limit Mazuz to approving new IDF chief

Justices indicated that they saw no reason to allow Mazuz to do anything beyond approving the appointment of Herzi Halevi as the next IDF chief.

 NEWLY APPOINTED Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara waves during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem this week.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
NEWLY APPOINTED Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara waves during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem this week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday strongly hinted that it will limit former justice Menachem Mazuz to a temporary term as chief of the country’s vetting committee for senior officials.

Essentially, Justices Noam Sohlberg, Yael Wilner and Ruth Ronen impressed on the state’s lawyer Anar Helman that because of the current election season, they saw no reason to allow Mazuz to do anything beyond approving the appointment of Herzi Halevi as the next IDF chief.

The position of the Government and of Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara has been that Mazuz must be appointed as permanent head of the vetting committee, and not limited only to vetting Halevi.

Helman said that a temporary appointment might give the public the appearance of political interference with the vetting committee’s independence and impartiality.

He argued that there was no point in objecting to the appointment of Mazuz to head the committee in election season because, unlike other government positions which might be open to a wider range of persons, the jobs which the vetting committee supervises are all self-limited to a very short list of top contenders.

Supreme Court judge Menachem (meni) mazuz seen at   Israeli businessman Jacky ben Zaken hearing of his appeal on manipulating the share price of Financial Levers. on July 14, 2016.  (credit: FLASH90)Supreme Court judge Menachem (meni) mazuz seen at Israeli businessman Jacky ben Zaken hearing of his appeal on manipulating the share price of Financial Levers. on July 14, 2016. (credit: FLASH90)

For example, he noted that there were really only two serious candidates in the running (only those at the rank of major-general and who have served in certain command positions are considered eligible) and now that the government has already selected its choice, there would seem to be no reason for anyone to care that it is election season.

However, all three justices repeatedly battered Helman with questions undermining his argument.

Wilner asked multiple times, “What is special in this case which justifies departure from the general rule,” that appointments should not be made during election season.

Appearance of political involvement

Further, Wilner shot down the idea that a temporary appointment would give the public the appearance of political interference, saying instead that the public would be much more worried by the idea of a permanent appointment during election season.

In a prior solo proceeding, Sohlberg had already pressed the Government hard to accept a temporary appointment for Mazuz as a compromise which would both allow Halevi’s appointment as IDF chief to go through, while limiting Mazuz’s appointment to that issue.

The basis of that compromise was that there seems to be sufficient support for appointing Halevi as the next IDF chief despite election season so as to avoid the danger of not having an IDF chief in place when the current IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi steps down in January 2023.

Though election day is November 1, it is far from certain that a new permanent government will be in place by January, let alone ready to complete from scratch a new process to appoint a new IDF chief.

On the flip side, some groups on the political Right, including the NGO Lavi, which brought the petition, oppose Mazuz’s appointment entirely, declaring him to be too aligned with the Left.

Mazuz’s record as a former attorney-general showed him to be tough on a number of security issues and his term saw the prosecution of former Center-Left prime minister Ehud Olmert, and was not viewed as particularly left-wing.

But when he served as a former High Court justice, the Right was angry with Mazuz for opposing house demolitions of terrorists in some cases and for various other rulings.

What seemed to make it more likely that the High Court would force the Government into only a temporary appointment for Mazuz, was that even Ronen – viewed as part of the High Court’s progressive wing – seemed against a permanent appointment.

It was unclear when the High Court would rule but it was expected to be soon so that Halevi’s appointment can go through before the election.