Confrontation Between Deputy AG and Justice Minister Heats Up in Knesset

Justice Minister said she would not let Zilber represent her ministry over the latter's criticism of the 'cultural loyalty' bill, but both wound up at the same session

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (left) at the Knesset committee with Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber (right), December 3, 2018.
Emil Salman

Deputy Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Dina Zilber represented the government Monday at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee despite Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s objections.

Shaked had said last month that she would no longer let Zilber represent her ministry in the Knesset, even though Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said she had no authority to make that decision.

Mendelblit said Zilber would represent him at the debate about new milk prices, but Shaked had told the committee chairman, MK Eitan Cabel of Zionist Union, that she would attend the meeting instead of Zilber, and both of them wound up at the session.

>> Israeli justice minister bars deputy AG from Knesset panel ■ AG rebukes deputy for criticizing culture-loyalty bill, but allows her to represent him in Knesset

“I’ve already said in the past that the deputy attorney general would not represent” the Justice Ministry, Shaked said in Zilber’s presence and then refused to comment on the issue at hand, the agreement on milk prices.

FILE Photo: Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

“I don’t have confidence in her ability to represent my office. I like to come to the Knesset, for me it’s not a chore but a privilege that I would be happy to continue to undertake,” Shaked said.

Shaked left the session a few minutes later, before Zilber began to speak.

Earlier a confrontation ensued between Shaked and Zionist Union MK Revital Swid.

“You’re not supposed to quarrel here with deputy Dina Zilber. She presents the attorney general’s view,” Swid said.

Shaked retorted: “I shall express his view. I’ve spoken to him.”

Swid replied that “it’s not possible for you to stoop to this level,” and Shaked said, “What do you mean, I shall do so.”

After Shaked left the debate, Zilber spoke about the new milk prices, saying “the legal claims regarding this matter are being looked at... a week ago we had a discussion in my office with all the relevant professional and legal staff, and arguments were raised against the deal. We will complete our examination soon and give our conclusions in accordance with what the attorney general decides.”

Mendelblit related to the Shaked-Zilber dispute during a discussion being held at the same time in the State Control Committee.

“I don’t know what Minister Shaked will do. I am certainly not looking to offend her status and we have proper work relations as I do with all the cabinet ministers,” he said. “But it must be clear that I’m the reason why Dina Zilber is there. I am responsible for it. I sent her. She didn’t show up on her own accord.”

Mendelblit said “it’s important for [Zilber] to be able to express her position everywhere just as we do in other debates. Our views must be expressed in order to give you, the Knesset, the best tools in order for you to make the best possible decisions.”

Mendelblit attended the comptroller committee’s debate instead of Zilber. He had initially told chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich that Zilber would attend in his place, but later swapped committee sessions with Zilber, citing the significance of the debate at the comptroller’s committee about the issue of the status of state gatekeepers.

The backdrop for the controversy over Zilber’s appearance was her criticism last month of a so-called “cultural loyalty” bill introduced by Culture Minister Miri Regev. Shaked accused Zilber of speaking out against the government and demanded that Mendelblit fire her.

Mendelblit reprimanded Zilber. He rejected demands for her dismissal but insisted that she coordinate her Knesset presentations with him ahead of time. Shaked replied that she had sole jurisdiction over who represents her ministry in the Knesset and that she wouldn’t allow Zilber to do so.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the party Shaked belongs to, Habayit Hayehudi, left the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday in protest Zilber’s presence there.