At New Minister's Welcome, Israel's Attorney General Blasts Those 'Trying to Undermine Our Work'

Outgoing Minister Amir Ohana says the system 'is calibrated more toward protecting its power than toward protecting the public's faith in it'

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Tel Aviv, January 28, 2020
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Tel Aviv, January 28, 2020 Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit vowed Monday not to be diverted from “the path of law and justice” during a welcoming ceremony for new Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.

“Even when there are stormy winds outside, even when people are trying to divert us from our path, making false accusations and trying to undermine our work, this is our path,” Mandelblit said.

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Nissenkorn, a former chairman of the Histadrut labor federation whose appointment was bitterly opposed by many right-wingers, promised to use his post to protect the legal system.

“Public criticism of the judiciary’s decisions is a pillar of our democracy,” he said. “But the strength and resilience of the legal system are the fundamental basis of Israel’s strength and resilience as a Jewish and democratic state. These are fundamental axioms.

“Anyone who cares about Israel’s identity will protect and defend the independence of the judiciary, and that’s what I intend to do,” he added. “A strong, independent legal system is a basic condition for democracy, and for the personal liberty of every one of us.

“I have complete faith in the Supreme Court, the attorney general and the prosecution, who do their work faithfully ... and fearlessly,” he continued. “The fact that the gatekeepers have to walk around with bodyguards due to death threats is intolerable, and I’ll do everything I can to make it stop.”

Last week, Mandelblit filed a police complaint over threats he had received from right-wing activists.

Outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana warned at the ceremony that many flaws in the legal system remain in urgent need of fixing. One of them, he said, is that the system in general, and the prosecution’s conduct in particular, “is calibrated more toward protecting its power than toward protecting the public’s faith in it.”

Public faith in the prosecution will be earned “through the understanding that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he continued, quoting the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. “The legal system is too important to the optimal functioning of a democratic society to capitulate to the echoing threat of those stale, empty cries about ‘the end of democracy.’ It’s not the end of democracy that we seek, but its strengthening.”

Ministry director general Sigal Yakobi also cited a decline in public faith in the ministry and its component parts as one of the main challenges it faces. This decline didn’t happen because the ministry is doing its job any worse than in the past, she said, “but this fact doesn’t absolve us from being more attentive to the public’s feelings.

“A democratic system of government is based on a reciprocal relationship between the government and its institutions, on one hand, and the citizenry, on the other, a relationship that requires trust alongside skepticism and a critical attitude,” she continued. “Therefore, this erosion of trust requires us to be more attentive to the public ... to be more open to criticism rather than repulsing it.”

Haaretz reported recently that Mandelblit suspected Ohana of trying to oust him and didn’t rule out involvement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in that effort. Mandelblit denied that report.

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