Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced on Sunday that she will not allow Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber to appear before a Knesset committee on Monday, and will instead exercise her prerogative to represent the Justice Ministry herself.
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.
Zilber was supposed to represent the ministry at two Knesset committees on Monday – the Economic Affairs Committee and the State Control Committee. But in the end, she will appear at neither. Shaked is attending the former, which is discussing an agreement on milk production and prices.
And Mendelblit announced on Sunday that he will attend the State Control Committee, saying he decided he should be there because it is discussing a “broad issue of principle” – the status of the government’s legal gatekeepers.
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Shaked’s decision to bar Zilber from representing her ministry stemmed from the latter’s criticism of the so-called “cultural loyalty” bill when it was discussed by the Knesset Education Committee last month. Shaked accused Zilber of making “extreme, provocative statements against Knesset members and cabinet ministers” and demanded that Mendelblit fire her.
In the speech that sparked Shaked’s ire, Zilber said, “Let us have obedient legal advisers, castrated artists, a bridled media, and a people disciplined and educated to all think alike.” She also warned against an “everyone’s against me” style of conversation “that offends and scars our shared social fabric, that pigeonholes and labels. Who is for us and who is against us. If some are loyal, then are there also some who are traitors? A fifth column?”
Shaked then complained to Mendelblit, writing that Zilber had “repeatedly” showed “that she doesn’t want to act as an honest, professional legal advisor” and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to represent the ministry. “Her political views should be expressed by running for political office as part of one of the parties in the Knesset,” Shaked added.
Mendelblit, in a written reprimand to Zilber, agreed that her remarks had been problematic. “This is a style that’s inappropriate and unacceptable from a legal advisor in the civil service,” he wrote. “And it could be interpreted – even if that wasn’t your intention, as you explained – as entering the political playing field.”
He also noted that he had spoken with Zilber before about previous “incautious” remarks, and said her latest statements showed that she hadn’t learned her lesson.
Nevertheless, he insisted that she should continue representing the ministry in the cabinet and Knesset, with the provison that she should coordinate her positions with him in advance.
But Shaked insisted that she is the only one authorized to decide who will represent her ministry, and said she wouldn’t let Zilber do so for the remainder of the Knesset’s winter session, which runs until March 31.