Back to the Straight and Narrow

Incoming attorney general Yehuda Weinstein does not need advice. He is an experienced lawyer with a high reputation, and he should be wished success in carrying out his complex post, as both the government's legal adviser and head of the state prosecution, in a responsible and fair manner. Setting aside the controversy over splitting the duties of the attorney general, it is appropriate that he set limits for himself that could correct some of the distortions that characterized the manner in which his predecessors carried out their jobs.

First of all, it is important that the attorney general not attend cabinet meetings on a regular basis, just as it would be inconceivable for the army chief of staff or a ministry director general to sit in on cabinet meetings regularly. Cabinet ministers are chosen, and their appointments are confirmed by a representative of the sovereign power, the Knesset, to which they are accountable. The attorney general plays a senior judicial-administrative role, but is not accountable to the Knesset, and therefore has no place at the cabinet table. That was the case until 1977, when prime minister Menachem Begin, for political reasons that are not difficult to guess, invited the attorney general at the time to attend cabinet meetings on a regular basis. This has no support in law, and the AG's presence at cabinet meetings constitutes injury to the separation of powers and to democratic principles. In light of the fact that the attorney general might be in the position of trying ministers the AG's his presence at cabinet meetings constitutes a serious conflict of interest, conferring power that cannot and must not be granted to any unelected official.

Before Begin established this distorted practice the attorney general was invited to cabinet meetings only when there was a specific need for it, such as for deliberations on a bill.

Second, to ensure that the war against corruption is both effective and proper, the attorney general must ensure that in the event of suspicions concerning senior figures any investigation of them is conducted with all due vigor - and speed. A situation in which the investigation of a president for rape continued for years, and likewise the investigations of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is scandalous, damaging the public trust and democratic rule. Such investigations should be given top priority, and with all their complexity they should be decided - one way or another. Sometimes there is a suspicion - which I hope is baseless - that law enforcement authorities are perhaps interested in dragging out investigations like these because they give prominence and power to the people conducting them as long as they are proceeding.

Last but not least, the outgoing Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, was guilty of a serious mistake. It is absolutely inappropriate for the attorney general to speak to the media about an ongoing investigation, especially when it involves a public figure. Mazuz's televised comments during the investigation of former president Moshe Katsav were scandalous and did serious damage governmental fairness and the public's trust in the attorney general.

All of these things are elementary and obvious in any country where the rule of law prevails, but in Israel something went wrong. If the new attorney general restores probity, then even before he begins his job we will be able to say that he contributed to the rule of law and to repairing the public trust in his post. It is precisely because of the great power that the attorney general possesses that it is appropriate that he restrain it.