Attorney General Urges Netanyahu, Gantz to Appoint Permanent Justice Minister

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, this month
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, this monthCredit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Friday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz to fill several key ministerial positions, amid the imminent expiration of temporary appointments, warning that the failure to do may seriously harm the justice ministry's work and the general functioning of the Israeli government. 

The attorney general emphasized the significance of the Justice Ministry in particular. "A situation in which the State of Israel will be left without certain ministers, including without an incumbent justice minister, for an unknown period that may be prolonged, is a very unusual and politically dire situation," Mendelblit said.

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In the wake of Mendelblit's plea, Gantz addressed Netanyahu and demanded that a vote be held on the appointment of a permanent justice minister at the upcoming cabinet meeting scheduled to take place on Monday.

In his message to Netanyahu and Gantz, Mendelblit clarified that although his office has been working in recent weeks to delegate powers to various ministries in such a manner that will temporarily rectify the situation, certain central and important powers will not be able to be exercised following the expiration of the acting justice minister's term.

"This situation is particularly serious in all the ministries concerned, and it raises unique difficulties in the Justice Ministry, due to the unique institutional role of this ministry and taking into account the nature and character of the powers conferred on the minister who heads the ministry," Mendelblit wrote. In the absence of an acting or permanent justice ministry, Mendelblit warned that, many critical powers conferred on the justice ministry will not be able to be exercised.

Conflict of interest

On Thursday, the High Court of Justice ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is standing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust – must abide by the conflict of interest agreement drafted by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit forbidding him from handling judicial and law enforcement appointments. 

According to the conflict of interest agreement, Netanyahu cannot make decisions concerning appointments in the law enforcement and court systems, or be involved in matters concerning witnesses of the other defendants in his cases, or in legislation that could have an influence on the legal proceedings against him.

Mendelblit clarified that Netanyahu is also barred from handling such matters through other people. “He [Netanyahu] must avoid acting on these matters through other parties on his behalf, and he must avoid using his influence on the people authorized to handle these issues.”

Not Mendelblit's first warning

Earlier this month, Mendelblit turned to Netanyahu and Gantz and made it clear to them that they should appoint replacements for acting ministerial appointments, since the Basic Law of Government does not allow for the extension of their terms. Mendelblit clarified that the Knesset's approval is needed for any permanent ministerial appointments.

A few days after Mendelblit's warning earlier this month, the cabinet was unable to appoint a new communications minister as planned, as Kahol Lavan Chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz vetoed it unless a new justice minister was appointed as well – even though the communications post was supposed to go to a member of his own party, Eitan Ginzburg.

Gantz is currently serving as acting justice minister and as acting communications minister. He began serving as acting justice minister after Avi Nissenkorn left the job to join Ron Huldai's The Israelis party, and his term is slated to expire on April 1.

Gantz has been serving as the acting communications minister since December when he ousted Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel after the latter joined Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. By law, an acting minister can’t serve more than three months, so Gantz must leave office on March 16.

Two Likud lawmakers, Yuval Steinitz and Yoav Gallant are currently serving in a temporary capacity as water resources minister and higher education minister respectively. Both posts were previously held by Zeev Elkin, who also joined New Hope. Steinitz and Gallant's terms expire on Saturday, March 27.

Aside from Gantz, Steinitz and Gallant, the cabinet also has two other acting ministers. Itzik Shmuli, who replaced Meirav Cohen at the Social Equality Ministry, must end his term by April 8, while Chili Tropper, who replaced Izhar Shay as science minister, must end his term by April 12.

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