The attorney general has a dual role: He serves as both head of the prosecution and counsel to government agencies. His professional opinion is binding on the government and its agencies, and this confers a special status upon him in inculcating the rule of law and determining how the responsibilities of government office must be carried out.
But current Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who will soon complete his first year in office, has interpreted his role in a limited manner. He has focused on his authority as head of the prosecution while evading responsibility for enforcing the law and proper norms on government agencies. From his perspective, his role consists of deciding whether to file indictments or appeal court rulings.
The attorney general's weakness was evident in the recent case of a racist letter signed by dozens of municipal rabbis - i.e., holders of government jobs - that urged people not to sell or rent homes to Arabs. It is difficult to imagine a more illegitimate act for a civil servant, since by blatantly inciting against Arab citizens, the letter violates the very essence of democracy and the principles of equality laid down by numerous High Court of Justice rulings. The rabbis openly undermined the foundations of Israel's system of government.
And what did Weinstein do in response? At first, he remained silent. But several days later, he sent a letter (signed by his assistant ) to Meretz MK Ilan Ghilon in which he promised "to consider whether there are criminal or disciplinary aspects" to the rabbis' letter.
The attorney general's bureaucratic language, which sought to minimize the incident, is evidence of weakness. Instead of fulfilling his public responsibility and making it clear that the rabbis' letter violates every norm proper to a democratic, law-abiding state that believes in equality, Weinstein is hiding behind the minutiae of the law.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman was blocked in his attempt to split the attorney general's job in two, a split meant to weaken respect for the law on the part of government agencies. But Weinstein is making Neeman's vision a reality: a stunted attorney general who focuses on looking for "criminal aspects" and refrains from setting norms and limits on government activity.
The rabbis' letter must serve as a wake-up call for a slumbering attorney general, reminding him that where the rule of law is not enforced, anarchy reigns. Israel needs a strong attorney general who will make clear to civil servants how they are expected to behave.
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