Israeli Justice Minister Fires His Ministry's Director General

Amir Ohana's decision to dismiss Emi Palmor comes only weeks after he assumed his position, during which he replaced his entire team

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit (left) with Israel's Justice Minister Amir Ohana (center) and his ministry’s director general, Emi Palmor (right), in Jerusalem, on June 23, 2019.
Emil Salman

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved a decision on Tuesday by Justice Minister Amir Ohana to fire his ministry’s director general, Emi Palmor. Mendelblit informed Ohana that “there are legal difficulties but there is no legal impediment,” to the dismissal, which could impact the appointment of the next state prosecutor.

However, officials in the Justice Ministry said that since Palmor did not challenge her dismissal, the attorney general was not required to intervene in the matter.

Mendelblit informed the justice minister that the latter would have to justify the need to replace Palmor to Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkovitz, in keeping with his directive that ministers not replace their director generals during an election campaign. Such replacements “can lead to government instability, poor functioning of the ministry and even exploitation of government powers.”

Israel justice minister, Amir Ohana attends a special cabinet meeting in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights June 16, 2019.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

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An exception may be made if the Civil Service commissioner “is persuaded that there is no choice but to replace the director general for the proper functioning of the ministry,” he said. A minister can indicate the need and persuade the commissioner, and the decision is then passed on to the commissioner. If Hershkovitz approves the replacement, Ohana’s candidate, Ophir Cohen, will then have to be vetted by the appointments committee, headed by Herskovitz.

Palmor, as part of her duties, was to have been a member of the committee appointing the successor to State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who ends his term of office in December. The committee normally meets a month before the serving prosecutor steps down. 

Although Ohana was given the justice portfolio a few weeks ago and only until the upcoming election, the role of director general is a personal appointment. He therefore he can dismiss Palmor, who served five-and-a-half years in the position. Ohana also replaced his entire team of advisers and his secretaries. Other recently appointed temporary ministers, of foreign affairs, transportation and education, did not replace their director generals.

Ohana submitted a request to the Civil Service commissioner on Monday to replace Palmor with Cohen, a founder of a group working to support army reservists. The committee that discusses exceptions is to discuss the request. “The minister’s request came yesterday to the Civil Service commissioner’s office and it will be examined according to the procedure for election time,” the office commented.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair posted on Facebook that Palmor had been appointed by ex-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and had been an assistant to former Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon. 

According to an article by Yossi Verter in Haaretz last week, Yair Netanyahu was behind Ohana’s appointment.

Haaretz reported last week that Ohana hired his cousin, Narkis Alfi, as his bureau chief. When he entered office he also replaced some of the previous justice minister’s personal appointments. 

Palmor was originally hired as Justice Ministry director general by former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, after years of service as head of the ministry’s pardons department. Ohana’s successor Shaked kept Palmor on as director general.

“Emi Palmor headed the Justice Ministry during my term in a professional manner," Shaked commented. "We carried out extensive activities to improve services to citizens in all departments in the ministry, to integrate and improve the lot of disadvantaged groups and promote fairness and justice.”