New A-G takes office, makes firm pledge to defend ‘rule of law’

Mandelblit: Law is not a purpose – it is a means to serve society, to defend on all human rights.

Avichai Mandelblit (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avichai Mandelblit
Avichai Mandelblit took office on Monday as attorney- general, with a firm pledge to defend “the rule of law” as the critical underpinning of the country’s foundations as a Jewish and democratic state.
Presiding at the ceremony held at the Israel Bar Association in Jerusalem were President Reuven Rivlin, outgoing attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
In his opening speech, Mandelblit sounded a philosophical note, saying: “The law itself is not a purpose; rather, it is a means to realize society’s purposes.
It is intended to defend human rights – of all human beings.”
The rule of law “applies to each and every citizen of the state, and it is the foundation of the strength and might of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.
“The rule of law is the idea that anyone who is harmed by a crime... will be caught and brought to justice for his actions,” including “anyone who is harmed by the illegal actions of the institutions of the government” since law enforcement must also “fix injustice,” Mandelblit said.
As he sees it, upholding the rule of law means waging “an uncompromising war on organized crime and corruption.”
Alluding to critics who see him as too closely aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom he has served as cabinet secretary for the past two years, Mandelblit said: “The attorney-general is not subject to the authority of anyone other than the public interest in upholding the law.”
Introducing a new flavor to legal discourse, he quoted a hassidic master rather than the Bible while referring to the importance of fulfilling social obligations to one another.
Weinstein, having finished a six-year term, answered critics who accused him of dragging out decisions about whether to indict a public official, and sometimes deciding against pressing charges in controversial cases.
He said that prosecutors ought to be sure whether “there is a reasonable chance for obtaining a conviction” before filing an indictment, and that “only if this is the case, should he file an indictment.”
Without a reasonable chance of obtaining a guilty verdict, he thought prosecutors ought to refrain from steps amounting to having an undecided case just “rolled into the arena of the courts.”
Legal experts have criticized Weinstein’s view, arguing that charges must be pressed more aggressively against public officials as a deterrent against corruption, even in instances where the chances of winning a conviction are uncertain.
The outgoing attorney-general also took a swipe at Shaked, observing that while he thanked her for cooperating with him, “your world view is different from mine.”
Alluding to one of many issues that has come between the two, he said he fiercely opposed any attempt to split the powers of the attorney-general and divide the position in two: top prosecutor and top legal adviser to the government.
Rivlin, in his remarks, called the person filling the role of attorney-general “the strongest non-elected public servant in Israel.”
“His power does not come from the public” like that of an elected official, but “derives from his commitment to the law, and his voice is the voice of the law, the voice of constitutionality,” Rivlin said.
The president said the attorney- general had the power to force the cabinet to drop legislative initiatives by deciding that they might be illegal.
Addressing proposals to split the powers of the attorney-general, Rivlin, himself a lawyer, said that while opponents’ views should be treated with respect, “not every change to the legal system is an attack on the rule of law.”
Shaked said of Weinstein that anyone who thought he was too soft in fighting security threats had no idea how tough he could be against crime. However, even as she respected that a strong democracy needed to stop problematic laws, she thought the attorney-general and state need to know when not to use those powers – a clear reference to her hope that Mandelblit would interfere less with Knesset legislation than did Weinstein.
She also slammed those who criticized her committee for selecting Mandelblit for the post due to his involvement in the Harpaz Affair and the perception that he was too close to Netanyahu.
The ceremony included many less-scripted and comical moments, with speakers referring to Weinstein’s past as a boxer so often that more than one picked the same quote by American legend Muhammad Ali to sing Weinstein’s praises.
Mandelblit countered by talking about his love of soccer and the importance of teamwork also in upholding the law.