The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel says it will petition the High Court of Justice by Sunday if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not agree to allow Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz to appoint a justice minister.
The position became vacant on Thursday, when Gantz’s role as acting justice minister expired. The lack of a minister in this key position could hold up the government’s ability to appoint new judges and other law enforcement officials, effect extraditions, and carry out legislative issues and authorize legal declarations.
Under the May 2020 unity government formed by Netanyahu and Gantz, Avi Nissenkorn was appointed as justice minister for the entire term of the government. But when Nissenkorn resigned in a shift of alliances before the March 23 election, Gantz took over the portfolio for a set period of three months.
Under the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz, Blue and White nominates the justice minister.
Netanyahu, however, has prevented convening the cabinet, this preventing Blue and White from exercising its power to appoint another temporary justice minister.
There is a fair chance that the High Court will intervene, as it has previously issued orders compelling the appointment of a temporary state attorney and other key roles. On the other hand, the justice minister’s job is a political appointment so the justices may feel more restrained.
It is unclear whether Netanyahu is merely playing for time in the hope that he might soon form a government in which he would be able to name a justice minister more to his liking, or if he is prepared to try to leave the position vacant indefinitely, even if the country heads to a fifth election.
The prime minister’s main interest in the justice minister position appears to involve key law enforcement and judicial appointees that could influence his public corruption trial, which opens on Monday, as well as diminish the legal establishment’s standing in relation to the Knesset.
Even without a justice minister in place, the department’s permanent staff can keep some parts of the ministry operating. But former state attorney Shai Nitzan said on Thursday that in a democracy, only elected officials should have the power to run the ministry. Leaving the justice ministry’s role empty was “unthinkable,” he said.
New Hope Party leader Gideon Sa’ar criticized Netanyahu on Thursday for allowing Israel to carry on without the crucial position filled.
“Leaving the state with no justice minister is the continuation of Netanyahu’s efforts to dismantle the state and its institutions,” Sa’ar wrote on Twitter, adding that Netanyahu was wrong to call himself part of the nationalist camp.
“He is anti-nationalist and prefers his own personal good to the good of the nation,” Sa’ar wrote. “If this is what he dares to do at such a sensitive time, we can only imagine what he would do here if, God forbid, he forms a new government.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit demanding last week that the position be filled with all reasonable haste.
Gantz has issued numerous statements slamming Netanyahu for the stalemate, and has canceled cabinet meetings on other issues that Netanyahu wanted to hold until the dispute is resolved.