MKs Seek to Circumvent the Attorney General

Bill would transfer legal consultation on matters related to international law to the National Security Council, which is subordinate to politicians.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein: Word games aside, he is charging Uri Blau with spying.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Olivier Fitussi

“International law requires a unique expertise that is different from the expertise in other legal areas,” says the explanation for the bill proposed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and others, one that aims to transfer legal consultation on matters related to international legislation from the attorney general to the National Security Council. They add: “Especially in Israel … it is important that the senior figure in the area of international law have international influence.”

It is troubling to see that according to the bill’s authors, the “senior figure” should be the deputy head of the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, and not, as is presently the case, the attorney general. For in the State Prosecutor’s Office that the attorney general heads, there is a deputy attorney general for international legislation and a large unit of attorneys – a team that includes Israel’s leading experts in the field.

But hidden in the explanation attached to the bill is its real purpose: “In light of the use being made of international law as a diplomatic weapon against Israel, we propose that the field of international law be merged within the framework of the National Security Council, which is a body entrusted with overseeing all of the strategic threats …”

In the view of the bill’s proponents, international law is a “strategic threat” to Israel, not a set of rules by which the state is obliged to act. They seek to create a situation whereby anyone who advises the government in this area will be subordinate to the politicians in the Prime Minister’s Office, and not the attorney general, whom they seek to weaken. The High Court of Justice ruled that “the attorney general’s opinion on a legal question reflects the existing legal situation,” and that “the position of the government and its authorities regarding the content of the law is determined by the attorney general.” Also, the attorney general and his representatives are not “advisers” in the usual sense of the word and “their opinion is binding upon the government.”

The motivation for this bill, say sources close to its authors, is to find a way to circumvent the attorney general who, they say, “made it difficult to demolish terrorists’ houses and prevented expulsions from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.” But it is precisely the legal advice from the existing system that is protecting government ministers, the state and the citizens and soldiers who act in its name so that they are not exposed to legal claims overseas. This bill endangers them.

It’s surprising that MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor) and Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) signed on to the bill. It’s not surprising that MK Yariv Levin, an enemy of the independent judicial system, is the first signatory. At any rate, the bill should be shelved.