What was AG’s real position on Amir Peretz to lead IAI? - analysis

It is true that Avichai Mandelblit did not block Peretz’s appointment. Yet, it remains unclear why the media downplayed his doubts.

 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

One bizarre aspect of the government’s appointment of Amir Peretz to lead Israel Aerospace Industries was how the media covered Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s involvement.

In most news stories, there were one or two lines saying that Mandelblit had approved Peretz – overruling the vetting committee that had nixed him and paving the way for the government to ignore the committee.

At a formal level, it is true that Mandelblit did not block Peretz’s appointment. Yet it remains unclear why the media downplayed Mandelblit’s doubts about approving Peretz.

Even a cursory reading of his extensive legal opinion shows that Mandelblit vehemently opposed Peretz being appointed, and tried to convince the government not to do so while falling short of saying that the government lacked the power to override the vetting committee.

Essentially, Mandelblit said that the vetting committee had a strong argument both that Peretz lacked the full qualifications to be IAI chairman, and that he was too politically connected to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, his sponsor for the appointment.

Chairman of the Labor party Amir Peretz seen during a press conference with Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and party members in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)Chairman of the Labor party Amir Peretz seen during a press conference with Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and party members in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Mandelblit even analyzed the issue of Peretz now being removed from politics for about half a year, concluding that this was an insufficient cooling-off period.

If Peretz and Gantz wanted to argue that he was “out” of politics and that any political connections were on the weak end of the spectrum, the attorney-general said that Peretz’s connection to Gantz and the political class should still be viewed as recent and strong.

So why did Mandelblit approve Peretz as per Gantz’s position?

Mandelblit said that in light of Peretz’s background as former defense minister, prior head of the Histadrut, earlier head of the Labor party and other top positions, he could not declare him so unqualified as to render Gantz’s choice blatantly illegal.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Questions have arisen how the current government can frame itself as less politicized and more aboveboard on appointments than its predecessor, when Gantz is permitted to push through an appointment like Peretz, who has neither any real background in the aircraft industry nor with economics at the scale the chairman of IAI requires.

Put differently, Peretz served in many top political posts that had economic elements to them, but he always had expert non-politicians to advise him.

Should he be appointed, he will be the top expert non-politician running IAI.

What is the point of the vetting committee if Gantz and the “change” government can just ignore its vetoes?

Mandelblit wrote that there was only one other instance where a government ignored the vetting committee. This was regarding the appointment of Yair Shamir to head IAI, an appointment that still failed because of other legal conflicts-of-interest issues.

Mandelblit and others took a stronger stance on the ongoing economic issues Shamir would have had leading IAI with an overlap of his other personal financial interests, versus Peretz’s issues regarding his connections to Gantz.

The comparison is even more striking since Shamir had previously served as IAI chairman. Mandelblit and others can say that Shamir could have gotten the job back if he had sold his private overlapping interests, but at the end of the day, it is Peretz they are pushing through, not Shamir.

The issue does not fall into a simple Right/Left issue, as Avigdor Liberman was involved in both cases, but the bottom line is that it raises legal and ethical questions.