Former justice minister Meir Sheetrit resigned on Monday from the powerful panel that selects the next attorney-general following the return of prior sexual harassment allegations against him to the headlines.
The government had just approved Sheetrit as the fifth and final member of the panel last week, and it was unclear how much his resignation would delay its deliberations and progress.
He resigned following five cabinet ministers from the Labor and Meretz parties and one from Yesh Atid voting against his appointment and a continued public campaign against him by women’s empowerment groups.
Sheetrit was never criminally probed, something which Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar presented as a key factor for having appointed him and for his disappointment at the resignation.
Yet, reports have indicated that Sheetrit years ago signed a settlement with a former female employee paying her hundreds of thousands of shekels to keep quiet and that her refusal to testify was what killed the criminal probe against him.
Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of the Association for Supporting Sexual Assault Victims, said: “The appointment of Sheetrit to the attorney-general selection panel was disgraceful and raised a grave stench.”
She added that Sa’ar needed to be more careful to appoint people who have no cloud of ethical issues hanging over them, such as Sheetrit who allegedly paid off his former employee to keep her quiet.
Current Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will be replaced on February 1 by the committee led by former conservative chief justice Asher Grunis, and including conservative New Hope MK Zvi Hauser.
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.
But she and Shapira will not be able to overturn the conservative majority that Sa’ar is expected to ensure with Sheetrit’s replacement.
The overall thrust of the committee is heavily conservative, such that Sa’ar may be able to fulfil his dream of splitting the powers of the attorney-general among two different figures – one a chief prosecutor and one a chief legal adviser – even without a new Knesset law.
In any event, Sa’ar has made it clear that he will likely only appoint a candidate who supports splitting the roles.
Replacing Sheetrit requires another round of government approval and the list of alternates is short since the specific seat must be either a former justice minister or former attorney-general.
Sa’ar is unlikely to appoint most of the former attorney-generals because nearly all of them oppose his move to split the attorney-general’s responsibilities.
Former justice minister Daniel Friedman is one of the prominent possibles who has called for such a move for nearly two decades.
With only 10 weeks left in Mandelblit’s term, any significant delay to the panel getting started could impact whether there is an agreed upon and fully vetted finalist in time.