Splitting Attorney General's Job Would 'Undermine the Legal System,' Israeli Justice Says

'There’s no doubt that splitting the attorney general’s job will dramatically weaken Israel’s law enforcement system,' Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz said

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Justice Menachem Mazuz, in 2009.
Justice Menachem Mazuz, in 2009.Credit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The idea of splitting the attorney general’s job into two “has always come from people who want to weaken and undermine the legal system,” Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz said on Tuesday.

Mazuz, who served as attorney general before becoming a justice, also accused proponents of the idea of wanting “to make the attorney general’s job political.”

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“Given the current situation in the country, the first effect of splitting the attorney general’s job is that the job will become a political one,” he said, speaking at the Israel Bar Association’s annual conference in the southern city of Eilat.

“It’s possible to come up with arguments for and against, and as attorney general, I held internal discussions on this issue,” he added. “But in Israel’s reality, almost without exception, the idea of splitting the job has come from people who have blatantly attacked the system and sought to weaken it.

“There’s no doubt that splitting the attorney general’s job will dramatically weaken Israel’s law enforcement system. The job will become political, one for ‘someone who thinks like us.’”

If the job were split, the head of the prosecution would no longer also serve as the government’s legal adviser. The latter job’s – which is currently “to provide institutional advice and be responsible for the government – would then “become a political appointment for a crony, as happens in many countries. The next step would be that the government would want to fill appointments like the state prosecutor by itself.”

The attorney general’s power “stems from the combination of these two roles,” Mazuz continued. “The separation is artificial. To maintain an effective system, both hats must be worn together.”

Mazuz said he had discussed this issue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter’s first term (1996-99), since then-Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman was pushing it. But after a two-hour discussion, he said, Netanyahu admitted that splitting the position was a “bad idea” and issued a press statement saying it was no longer on the table.

“In my view, he was convinced that this would be bad for the government and not just for the attorney general,” Mazuz added. “The government doesn’t benefit from a weak legal adviser who doesn’t enjoy either the public’s trust or that of the courts.”

Current Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also objected to splitting the post back in December, adding that doing so would be especially problematic at a time when the prime minister is under indictment.

Gideon Sa’ar, who is slated to become justice minister in the government now being formed, has said he seeks to enact major reforms of the legal system, including splitting the attorney general’s job. Neeman as well as Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked also supported the idea during their respective terms as justice minister.

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