The search committee for the next attorney general has recommended Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit for the post. The Justice Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that the panel submitted its recommendation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Mendelblit was the only candidate endorsed by four of the committee’s five members. The chairman of the committee, retired Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, was the sole voice of dissent.
The appointment must be confirmed by the cabinet.
The other members of the committee are former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, Israel Bar Association representative Yechiel Katz, Knesset representative MK Anat Berko (Likud) and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev, a law professor, as the representative of academia on the panel.
A number of objections to Mendelblit were submitted to the committee, over his involvement in the so-called Harpaz affair, in which the case against him was closed for lack of evidence, as well as on the grounds that a cooling-off period was necessary after his term as cabinet secretary before serving as attorney general. As a result of the objections, Mendelblit was called back to answer questions from the committee.
The commissioner for prosecutorial oversight, retired Judge Hila Gerstel, was the other front-runner. Her relationship with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein deteriorated recently due to her disagreement with State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan over her criticism of the prosecution in the appointment of Dr. Maya Forman-Reznik as chief pathologist.
Last week, Haaretz reported that all of the members of the search committee except for Grunis met privately with Shaked during the search process, and that these meetings were neither documented nor reported to the committee. Although there is no ban on such meetings, senior jurists have said they should be entered into the protocol.
Mendelblit, 52, rose through the ranks of the Military Advocate General’s Office, as both defender and prosecutor, and served as military advocate general from 2004 to 2011.
He defended Col. Yehuda Meir, an Israel Defense Forces commander in the Nablus area of the West Bank, who during the first intifada ordered his soldiers to gather 12 residents from the village of Hawara and break their arms and legs. The soldiers complied. In the wake of a petition to the High Court of Justice, Meir was prosecuted in criminal court rather than in an army disciplinary tribunal, where his punishment was likely to go no further than a reprimand. Meir was court-martialed, demoted to the rank of private and discharged from the army but he did not receive a prison sentence.
As MAG, Mendelblit decided to prosecute Col. Ataf Zahar for rape and demanded the demotion of Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, who went on to become defense minister, following his conviction for indecent acts that took place during his days in uniform. He ordered an investigation of Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka, who during Operation Cast Lead ordered an attack on a residential compound in which 21 members of the Samouni family were killed. In 2012 Mendelblit’s successor, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, closed the case.
In the area of international law, Mendelblit contended with the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead and championed the establishment of the legal advice bureau for combat forces. Before being appointed cabinet secretary, in 2013, he completed his doctoral thesis, on the laws of war. His working relationship with Netanyahu began during Mendelblit’s term as MAG, and the prime minister consulted with him occasionally after he left the army. Sources close to Mendelblit stress that when he began his tenure as cabinet secretary he was informed that he would not be involved in political issues.
Mendelblit is widely admired by former MAGs, including former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar and district judges, who came to his defense in the Harpaz affair and sharply criticized the decision to investigate him. Mendelblit’s greatest detractor is Weinstein, who, in the Harpaz affair, ordered the probe into Mendelblit’s failure to report then-IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s possession of a forged document as soon as he knew about it rather than asking to “sleep on the decision,” and, in so doing, allegedly misleading his assistant. Many figures in the state prosecution, including former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, believe Mendelblit was treated unfairly.