Attorney General: High Court Must Force Appointment of Justice Ministry Director General

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Herzliya, September 3, 2020.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Herzliya, September 3, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has called on the High Court of Justice Monday to issue a temporary injunction in response to a petition calling for the appointment of a permanent director-general at the Justice Ministry.

“Coalition agreements and disputes cannot override the government’s and other authorities’ obligation to take action in order to make permanent appointments to senior positions,” wrote Mendelblit.

In the case of a director general for the Justice Ministry, which is normally a political appointment of someone in the minister’s confidence, Mendelblit believes that as soon as an appointment is brought to the cabinet for approval, the process must be completed.

Mendelblit’s reaction to the petition indicates his position on the appointment of the next state prosecutor as well. Though the state prosecutor is not a political appointment, he is to take a similar position in the event that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to delay the appointment of a candidate chosen by a search committee. If the court accedes to Mendelblit’s request in the present case, it is expected to follow suit in the appointment of a state prosecutor.

The search committee is expected to convene for the first time on Wednesday. It will hold two further sessions next week. Mendelblit, who chairs the committee, wants to complete the process quickly, within four weeks, to ensure that a candidate is chosen before the anticipated dissolution of the Knesset.

Justice Ministry officials believe that Mendelblit intends to promote this appointment even if elections are moved up, so that a transitional government will be able to approve it in an exception to the usual abstention of a caretaker government from making such appointments.

In August, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced the appointment of Shimon Brown as the ministry’s new director general, but since then the cabinet has not approved the appointment. A non-governmental organization advocating clean government petitioned the High Court, asking that it instruct the government, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz to explain why they are withholding their approval.

Netanyahu’s bureau said in response to the petition that “the issue of the manner of appointments is at the core of the dispute between the two parts of the government, and there is no room for bringing the honorable court into a deeply disputed political issue.”

The bureau placed the responsibility for delaying the appointment on Kahol Lavan, which “is grossly violating the coalition agreement and not allowing the setting up of a committee that would examine the proper method of making appointments, as agreed upon in the coalition agreement.”

Gantz’s associates say that “the public interest requires that all senior public office appointments be made as soon as possible, without further delay.”

“A debate on the appointment which is the subject of this petition was not on the cabinet’s agenda at its weekly meeting on Sunday” wrote Mendelblit. “Up to the time of writing there has been no information on any scheduled debate on this topic. Under these circumstances, in the absence of a concrete reason for not setting a date for such a debate, the attorney general believes that there is no option but to issue an injunction, as requested in the petition, and to instruct the government to set a date for providing a reply soon.”

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