Justices blast Mazuz on Science Ministry DG appointment

A-G changed mind midstream and supported the appointment of Sar-Shalom Jerby despite committee's opinion.

sar-shalom jerby 88 (photo credit: )
sar-shalom jerby 88
(photo credit: )
A panel of three High Court justices on Thursday sharply criticized Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz for changing his mind in midstream and supporting the appointment of Sar-Shalom Jerby as director-general of the Science Ministry despite the opinion of a special committee that he lacked the necessary qualifications. The court has yet to rule on a petition against the appointment, however, so Jerby will assume the post for the six-month trial period Mazuz agreed to. Originally, Mazuz told the cabinet it should abide by the recommendation of the three-person committee headed by Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander not to appoint Jerby on the grounds that he lacked experience in running a complex organization. Jerby had served as director-general of the National Religious Party for the past four years. The committee's job is to examine candidates for civil service jobs that do not require a public tender. One of these positions is that of ministry director-general. The two necessary requirements to be considered for these jobs are an academic degree and experience in running complex organizations. There is nothing preventing a minister from appointing a person with whom he has political links. The committee decided that since there was a political connection between Jerby and Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (of Habayit Hayehudi, which is rooted in the old National Religious Party), it would be more stringent in its examination of whether the candidate met the two basic requirements. The members ruled unanimously that Jerby did not have the necessary experience. After the cabinet received Mazuz's opinion not to approve Jerby's candidacy, Herschkowitz prepared a new proposal, in which he suggested that Jerby be appointed for a six-month trial period. At the end of the six months, the minister would write an opinion regarding the candidate's performance and bring it to the cabinet, at which point the cabinet would decide whether or not to make a permanent appointment. Mazuz accepted the proposal and withdrew his objection to Jerby. The Movement for Quality Government then petitioned the High Court demanding that it overrule the appointment. The hearing was held Thursday before Justices Ayala Procaccia, Esther Hayut and Edna Arbel. Turning to the state's representative, attorney Dana Briskman, Procaccia asked, "The attorney-general gave a detailed first opinion in which he explained why the cabinet must give serious weight to the [Hollander] committee. Afterwards, something happened in the dynamics, in the actions of the government, and then the attorney-general gave his consent to appointing [Jerby] for a trial period of six months. "How do you reconcile this opinion with his previous one? The law says the government may deviate from the committee's recommendation only for very important reasons. I did not find such reasons here. How can you explain this?" Briskman replied that Mazuz had not told the cabinet that it must abide by the committee's recommendation but only that it was "proper" to do so. "The fact that the cabinet approved the appointment for only six months shows that it did give consideration to the committee's opinion," she added. Meanwhile, Jerby's lawyer, Yehezkel Reinhartz, told the court that the committee had been established to advise the cabinet, not to give it orders. "Things have been turned upside down," he protested. "The Golem has turned against its creator. The committee is saying that the moment it makes a recommendation, the government is obliged to accept it other than in exceptional cases." Reinhartz also charged that the committee had erred when it said that Jerby lacked higher education even though he had a BA in education and an MA in political science and public administration. Considering that Herschkowitz was himself a scientist, there was no need for Jerby to be an expert in that field, he argued. Movement for Quality Government attorney Mika Koner-Karten told the court that the cabinet had found a way to outflank its own committee by making a temporary appointment. After six months, the minister would bring Jerby's candidacy back directly to the cabinet without having to first seek another opinion from the appointments committee. "In this, of all times, when corruption is increasing, there is a need to protect the appointments committee and give it its proper weight," she said.