Conflict in the Justice Ministry

An essential component of the legal system, without which Israeli democracy cannot survive, is at stake.

In his personal life, Yaakov Neeman is a pleasant man, always ready with courtesies such as "my learned colleague." But whenever his former client Benjamin Netanyahu recruits him to serve as justice minister, he becomes an aggressive rival to both the attorney general and the state prosecutor. This happened in Netanyahu's first government, when Neeman suspected then-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair and state prosecutor Edna Arbel of personal motivations in his investigation and subsequent indictment (though in effect, the probe was opened on orders from the Supreme Court). And it is happening again in Neeman's rush to clash with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

Mazuz will complete his term in about three months. But the normal process of appointing his successor got tangled up in Neeman's bid to split the attorney general's job - and, effectively, the entire prosecution - in two. This is what prompted Lador's letter on Tuesday, which was unprecedented in both form and content.

The attempt by Neeman and his supporters to divert the debate over the letter to questions of etiquette and procedure will not work. This is especially true because the decision-making process that resulted in Neeman's proposal appears to have involved a deliberate avoidance of consultation - in defiance, among other things, of the Winograd Committee's conclusions about the Second Lebanon War.

At stake is an essential component of the legal system, without which Israeli democracy cannot survive. Neeman tries to pretend that the issue is the division of authority between bureaucrats and elected officials. But the state prosecutor, like the Bank of Israel governor, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the police commissioner and the heads of the security services, is no petty clerk; he is a senior civil servant vested by law with considerable powers. Neeman's criticism is even stranger coming from a man who was never elected to the Knesset, but was appointed to the cabinet at the behest of a party chairman suspected of criminal activity, as if he were one of Avigdor Lieberman's clerks.

The man who is supposed to be the head of the justice system is instead waging all-out war on it from the inside. Neeman's victory in this war would be a loss for the State of Israel. By sending his letter, Lador was fulfilling his duty to the Israeli public - and all the more so as appointing a general prosecutor and splitting the prosecution in two is intended to push Lador to resign, perhaps even before he makes a decision on Lieberman's case.

Thus it is not the state prosecutor who should resign, but the justice minister - who, instead of strengthening the justice system, is working to destroy it.