Justice Minister Ohana's acting state attorney ousted by A-G, petitions

High Court refuses to extend time before expiration.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit has been one of the main players, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, in the current political stalemate. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit has been one of the main players, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, in the current political stalemate.
Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad was ousted on Thursday by the combined power of opposition from his boss Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, a petition against him to the High Court of Justice and the justice's refusal to intervene on his behalf.
Technically, Eldad can still respond to the petitions on May 14; theoretically he might be able to regain his office sometime in June.
However, by refusing to extend his temporary status past the Friday expiration date, the High Court effectively ended his tenure.
The court will often freeze the status quo so as not to harm one party or the other while litigation plays out.
Here, the effect of the High Court's slow-walking the case was the same as overtly taking Mandelblit's side.
Eldad was brought in as a temporary appointment by acting and now outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana, over strenuous objection by Mandelblit, who said he should get to pick his own top deputy.
The fighting between Mandelblit and Eldad has been unprecedented.
This past Sunday, Eldad referred suspicions related to Mandelblit to State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman for review.
Eldad's actions come after Mandelblit called for Eldad to step down by May 1 due improper conduct and an improper process leading to his appointment, as well as around 20 top prosecution division heads saying they support Mandelblit.
It was unclear what the purpose of Eldad's move was since the comptroller does not have the authority to conduct criminal probes. At most, Eldad could perform an initial review and then refer any criminal issues to the attorney-general himself.
Sources familiar with the powers of the comptroller said that Englman could review the efficiency of the attorney-general's office, but not any criminal issues.
The referral to Englman is also awkward, because the comptroller, who was appointed in July 2019, is regarded as being overly close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and influencing certain processes for his benefit.
ELDAD’S BEING forced to step down would violate the coalition deal signed between Likud and Blue and White. His position as state attorney was a formal and contingent request made by the Likud.
In response, he implied that Mandelblit wanted to get rid of him because Eldad was probing the attorney-general. He did not elaborate on the probe other than to say that it was based on information from an unnamed journalist.
Channel 13's Akiva Novick has since come forward and said he asked Eldad to probe into what led to the closing of the Harpaz Affair case against Mandelblit.
Mandelblit was a suspect in that case, which mostly centered on a rivalry between then defense minister Ehud Barak and then IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ultimately, then attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein closed the case against Mandelblit, who got an order from the High Court of Justice to verify that the case was closed on the basis of it including baseless accusations – as opposed to a lack of evidence, which can still leave a stigma on a suspect.
The High Court also approved Mandelblit to become attorney-general despite a petition against him. 
The 20 prosecution division heads last week said that they did not know the basis of Eldad's allegations and that even if there was some preliminary probe, he had violated his duties by revealing it publicly before it reached any significant point.
The bizarre spectacle left the Justice Ministry Spokesman’s Office sending out contradictory statements from the two top officials attacking each other. Spokesman Noam Sharbit said his staff represents the office and not a specific individual and would send out all statements to the media.
Eldad’s temporary appointment was due to expire on May 1. Mandelblit implied he could cover Eldad’s duties until the new government nominated a replacement, even if that took six months.
The High Court's Thursday order also signaled that Eldad should not be replaced until it issues a final ruling - something which could be drawn out.
Mandelblit’s attack on Eldad came in a letter to Public Civil Commission representative Daniel Hershkovitz, who had asked his legal view about whether Eldad could remain in office for six months as stipulated by the coalition deal, which freezes all temporary appointments.
Mandelblit accused Eldad of hiding information from him and of failing to gain the respect of the state prosecutors who were nominally under him.
In response, Eldad said Mandelblit had improperly undermined him from day one.
Mandelblit was not consulted on the coalition deal. 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 nonpolitical top roles for six months due to the coronavirus crisis.
KEEPING ELDAD on had been unexpected since he fast-tracked a decision to criminally investigate Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s former business partners, less than 10 days before the March 2 election – which some say may have shifted some crucial votes to the Likud down the stretch.
The truth is that many of the temporary appointments, including acting Police Insp.-Gen. Moti Cohen, have been serving for close to 18 months and are no longer viewed as political appointments.
In contrast, Eldad was pushed through into his position by Ohana on February 5, after months of fighting with Mandelblit.
Mandelblit referenced the six weeks in which the state prosecution operated directly under him without a state attorney as proof that Eldad was not needed over the next six months.
Around the time Mandelblit gave up his nearly two-month battle with Ohana over who would be acting state attorney – essentially Mandelblit’s No. 2 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 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 with regards to his rift with 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 attorney-general decided he would stop battling in the hope that he would be rid of Eldad by May, under a new government.
It was surprising that Eldad was given another six months, since normally he would only have been extended for another three months.
Mandelblit had initially objected to Eldad’s appointment, not only to avoid him being beholden to Ohana and Netanyahu, but also because Ohana was a transitional justice minister, and the attorney-general normally dominates the selection of his No. 2.
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.