AG Rebukes Deputy for Criticizing Culture-loyalty Bill, but Allows Her to Represent Him in Knesset

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, November 6, 2018
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, November 6, 2018Credit: \ Moti Milrod

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Thursday that he had rebuked his deputy Dina Zilber for her statement at the Education Committee meeting last week criticizing the loyalty-in-culture bill, but will allow her to represent him at Knesset and cabinet sessions.

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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked rejected Mendelblit’s stance and said she would bar Zilber from representing the ministry in the Knesset in the coming term.

Mendelblit said he told Zilber that her statement last Tuesday exceeded her purview and that he found her conduct unacceptable and damaging to the attorney general’s office.

He also rebuffed Shaked’s demand to ban Zilber from taking part in cabinet and Knesset sessions, but said Zilber will have to have the positions she intends to present authorized in advance for a while.

Mendelblit told Zilber her conduct could be interpreted, even if that wasn’t her intention, as “invading the political realm.”

Shaked said Zilber was not authorized to make the “political statements” she made last week. “Therefore and in view of the attorney general’s reprimand I will not allow her to appear at Knesset committee’s in the coming term,” Shaked said.

Shaked insisted she was the only one authorized to determine who should speak for the Justice Ministry in the Knesset and Cabinet, adding “public officials’ job is to reflect the ministers’ policy and assist their implementation as long as it’s within the law, not to hold manifests and serve as a political player.”

In a letter to Zilber, Mendelblit wrote that he had a conversation with her on Sunday and brought up “the considerably problematic character of your statement.” Zilber replied that her statement had not been politically motivated and that as far as she understood she had spoken within the remit of her duty.

Zilber’s controversial statement was made in a debate preparing the bill for a second and final vote in the Knesset: “These are not simple days and they bring not only new legislation, but new words: governability, loyalty and overriding. A confrontational, wounding discourse, scarring the shared social fabric, marking and tagging who is on our side, who is against us.”

“Let’s have nothing but obedient attorney generals, artists who eunuchs, a reigned-in media and people disciplined and educated to all think alike,” Zilber said.

>> Read more: Legal Loyalty | Editorial

Mendelblit said Zilber should have settled for presenting the attorney general’s position about the legal difficulties arising from the so-called “culture-loyalty” bill sponsored by Culture Minister Miri Regev.

Mendelblit reprimanded Zilber in his letter, although he does not call it a “reprimand” but a “comment,” noting that he had spoken to her in the past about needing to be more cautious, due to “injudicious public statements at public events that could be seen as exceeding the remit of our duty as legal advisors in the public service.”

Mendelblit said that on the eve of the Education Committee debate he and Zilber had a long talk which she had initiated, to coordinate answers to questions that may arise at the meeting. Mendelblit made it clear that “a statement like you made there didn’t come up at all and wasn’t hinted at during our long conversation and if it had – I wouldn’t have authorized it.”

“I expect you as deputy attorney general to be alert to the significance of the things you plan to say, especially at a Knesset debate on a charged, publicly sensitive cabinet proposal, and to the significance that could be attributed to your words, even if you didn’t intend it,” he wrote.

Mendelblit wrote that he expects Zilber to see the broader picture and assess in advance how such statements may be seen and what they could lead to, “with an emphasis on the damage that could be caused to the professional, neutral image of the attorney general’s office, as indeed happened in this case.”

Depiste the harsh criticism, Mendelblit said he credited Zilber for her “excellent professional work over many years” and the fact that she serves as a model for thorough, professional, effective and value-based legal opinion.”

Unlike Mendelblit, former Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch and former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir defended Zilber. Beinisch said Zilber’s statements are not seen as political, but as her opinion on values. Zilber did not exceed her duty because speaking about values is part of her job, Beinisch said.

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