Danger to Israeli democracy has not passed - Sa'ar at Mandelblit goodbye ceremony

Avichai Mandelblit officially retired as Attorney General after a six-year term. Leading Justice Ministry officials said their goodbyes, with many hinting at a future High Court career.

 Outgoing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit at his retirement ceremony, February 1, 2022.  (photo credit: DAVID WEIL/GPO)
Outgoing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit at his retirement ceremony, February 1, 2022.
(photo credit: DAVID WEIL/GPO)

Despite seven months of the current government in office, the danger to Israeli democracy has not passed, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday at a retirement ceremony for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.

“You worried about the future of Israel’s democracy,” he said. “We have pushed off the danger, but the danger has not passed.”

Mandelblit had “stood on guard to protect the legal establishment and the values of the rule of law,” despite “unprecedented attacks,” Sa’ar said in a not-so-veiled reference to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and figures in the political opposition.

“Whoever delegitimizes the legal establishment and attacks it day after day with libels, lies and fake news, does not want to fix it but to destroy it,” he said by Zoom since he has COVID and is isolated at home. “There is no democracy without the independence of the courts and the prosecution.”

Besides comments from State Attorney Amit Aisman and other Justice Ministry officials, the ceremony included warm personal and professional parting words from former Supreme Court chief justice and attorney-general Aharon Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, former president Reuven Rivlin, former Supreme Court deputy chief justice and attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein and others.

NEW HOPE leader Gideon Sa'ar, August 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)NEW HOPE leader Gideon Sa'ar, August 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Numerous speakers expressed anticipation that this would not be Mandelblit’s last major public role, hinting at the probability that he may be appointed to the Supreme Court in late 2023 when two justices are due to retire.

It is too soon for Mandelblit to be considered for the current round of four justices who are due to be replaced in late February.

Between now and next week, Aisman is acting as attorney-general on a temporary basis.

However, Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to be approved as the next attorney-general early next week.

Mandelblit will be remembered most for filing the public corruption case against Netanyahu when he was a sitting prime minister, as well as cutting plea deals leading to lenient convictions of Shas Party leader Arye Deri, former UTJ Party leader Ya’acov Litzman and Likud MK and former minister Haim Katz.

However, he was also a decisive force in the state’s policy throughout the coronavirus era, on settlement issues, security-related legal issues and a range of other legal and law-and-order questions, such as handling the wave of Arab-Israeli violence.

Prior to serving as attorney-general, Mandelblit was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. He also served an extended term as the IDF’s chief lawyer, successfully pushing off war-crimes charges made by the 2009 Goldstone Report.

Due to his prior expertise in the laws of war, Mandelblit also took a larger role as attorney-general in handling war-crimes probes emanating from the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu did not issue any statements, but several Likud and other opposition members verbally attacked Mandelblit and expressed relief that there would soon be a new attorney-general.

Former justice minister and current Likud MK Amir Ohana, who had intense and fiery public battles with Mandelblit, did not issue a statement.