Israel's Justice Ministry Rapped for Early Search for Prosecutor in Netanyahu Trial

'The feeling is that somebody high up wants to make a grab before the government chooses a state prosecutor,' one official says, but ministry insists tender was 'issued according to the accepted rules of the civil service'

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Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari at the Jerusalem District Court, May 2020.
Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari at the Jerusalem District Court, May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The Justice Ministry has invited applicants for a prosecutor’s job in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, in what prosecutors say is an effort to limit the power of the next state prosecutor, who has not yet been chosen.

Technically, the prosecutor in the corruption cases will be the Tel Aviv district prosecutor for economic and tax law; the invitation for applicants went out Monday.   

The previous prosecutor in Netanyahu’s cases, Liat Ben Ari, is now assistant state prosecutor for the enforcement of economic laws. The new Tel Aviv district prosecutor is expected to handle Netanyahu’s cases with Ben Ari, who at the beginning of Netanyahu’s trial in May received a security detail after a recommendation by the police.

Justice Ministry officials say that because of the coalition agreement that formed Israel’s unity government, the job of the Tel Aviv district prosecutor for economic and tax law might be left unfilled for about 18 months.

The Justice Ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that the invitation for applicants “was issued according to the accepted rules of the civil service. This is a routine procedure and one that is required.”

A place on the appointments committee will be filled by the deputy state prosecutor for criminal law, Shlomo Lemberger – if he is approved by the civil service commissioner.

According to the legal officials who spoke with Haaretz, Lemberger is close to Ben Ari, who is expected to promote her confidant and deputy in her previous position, Jonathan Tadmor. The latter is now a prosecutor in the cases against Netanyahu, which include the receiving of lavish gifts and an alleged improper quid pro quo for favorable media coverage.

“Liat Ben Ari was appointed deputy state prosecutor about 10 months ago and left the district. What happened all of a sudden that there’s an urgent need to invite applicants when there’s no permanent state prosecutor?” a senior official at the State Prosecutor’s Office told Haaretz.

“According to the coalition agreement, in about a month the justice minister will be able to form a search committee for state prosecutor, a leader will be chosen for the organization and decisions will be made,” the official added.

“The feeling is that somebody high up wants to make a grab before the government chooses a state prosecutor. The district hasn’t been abandoned and it’s being managed by Yoni Tadmor, supervised by Liat Ben Ari, so there’s no urgency.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

An official at the Justice Ministry said the feeling among prosecutors was that inviting applicants now would trim the powers of the state prosecutor chosen by the government.

Prosecutors lodged a protest with Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and the ministry’s director general, Sigal Yakovi. According to the prosecutors who filed the protest, the district prosecutor requires the confidence of the state prosecutor, who must be allowed to influence the decision on who gets the job.

According to the senior Justice Ministry officials, applicants were not invited earlier because a caretaker government was in power until the new unity government was inaugurated in May. Shortly after the government was formed, the justice minister approved the recommendation by the ministry’s human resources department to invite applicants.

If the Tel Aviv office in question had a permanent head, he or she could have continued in office after the end of the term, as was done  with the criminal prosecutor in the Haifa district, the officials said. But because the position was empty, applicants had to be invited.

Israel’s last permanent state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, finished his term last year. Dan Eldad, seen as an ally of Netanyahu, is currently the acting state prosecutor.

The committee for choosing the Tel Aviv district prosecutor for economic and tax law will have four members: a retired judge, who will chair the committee; a representative of the Justice Ministry, usually the state prosecutor; a representative of the Civil Service Commission, usually the legal adviser to one of the government ministries; and a representative of the prosecutor’s association.

The committee chairman has two votes, to be cast in case of a tie.

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