Selection panel progresses toward picking next attorney general

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar wants a candidate who will agree to a historic breaking apart of the attorney general position into two separate roles: a chief legal adviser and a chief prosecutor.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit –  responsible for the law, and not all aspects of the ethics and fate of the nation. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit – responsible for the law, and not all aspects of the ethics and fate of the nation.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Attorney General Selection Committee met on Sunday and is starting to progress toward appointing a replacement for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, whose term expires on February 1.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar already carefully selected the five members of the selection committee keeping in mind his goal to arrive at a candidate who will agree to a historic breaking apart of the attorney general position into two separate roles: a chief legal adviser and a chief prosecutor.

Former conservative chief justice Asher Grunis chairs the committee which also includes conservative New Hope MK Zvi Hauser and moderate conservative and former justice minister Dan Meridor.

Meridor was appointed after former justice minister Meir Sheetrit resigned due to an outcry over his being on the panel in light of prior sexual harassment complaints, which he controversially resolved in a confidential settlement.

The other two members on the panel are Israel Bar Association representative Tami Olman and academic representative Ron Shapira. Olman is not known as being particularly conservative and has battled to defend the judiciary from attacks by former justice minister Amir Ohana.

 Gideon Sa'ar (credit:  Rami Zernger) Gideon Sa'ar (credit: Rami Zernger)

But she and Shapira will not be able to overturn the conservative majority that Sa’ar ensured with the other three members.

In terms of the candidates being considered, the competition is still seen as somewhat wide open.

Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri has been a front runner from the start, both because of his experience as both Mandelblit and former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s right-hand man and because he is personally in favor of splitting the attorney-general role.

Recently retired IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Sharon Afek is in the running by virtue of his experience and since he would hold the distinction of being the first openly gay attorney general.

Some media reports have speculated about Prof. Ariel Bendor, a top conservative academic who has been involved in major public issues and is well-connected to top legal officials.

Bendor was also part of a group of jurists who gave Mandelblit critical support to achieve his post despite objections about his role in the Harpaz Affair from his days in the IDF.

There has also been speculation about a variety of star senior female private-sector lawyers to fulfill Sa’ar’s goal of appointing the first female attorney general.

Reports have jumped among several different female candidates, with the latest being Gali Baharav-Miara.

Currently, she is a private-sector lawyer at Tadmor-Levy & Co., but previously she was the head of Tel Aviv’s Civil Division and she continues to hold roles involved in public policy issues.

Of those four candidates, only Afek spent significant real time as a prosecutor and even he spent more of his career on the legal advice side of the IDF legal division.

The fact that they lack criminal prosecution experience could help pave the way for Sa’ar’s goal of splitting the position.

It is unclear if Sa’ar has the votes in the Knesset to split the position since virtually all former attorneys-general, the Supreme Court and left-wing parties in the coalition are expected to oppose such a split.

On the other hand, if Sa’ar gets opposition support or cuts some broader deal giving left-wing parties some other victory they seek, he could pass his initiative.

Another possibility is that Sa’ar just requests that the incoming attorney general give State Attorney Amit Aisman complete autonomy in the prosecutorial sphere, achieving his goal in practice without changing any law.

Some reports have also expressed concern that the committee may fail to reach a consensus, which could either necessitate extending Mandelblit’s tenure or appointing one of the current senior Justice Ministry officials as acting attorney general.