Justice Minister Announces Three Candidates for Israel's Attorney General

All three come from the Justice Ministry, though additional candidates may be submitted by December 20

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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Justice Minister Gideon Saar at the Knesset on Monday.
Justice Minister Gideon Saar at the Knesset on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced three candidates for Israel’s next attorney general on Monday, but may submit additional candidates by December 20.

All three come from the Justice Ministry’s ranks. The candidates are Gali Baharav-Miara, who formerly headed the Tel Aviv prosecution’s civil division and is now a special counsel at the Tadmor Levy & Co. law firm; Raz Nizri, the deputy attorney general for public and constitutional law; and Roy Schondorf, the deputy attorney general for international law. The list was submitted to the head of the search committee, former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and search committee members can also propose their own candidates. Bennett, however, said he will not submit his own candidates, instead opting to coordinate with Sa'ar. Aside from Grunis, the panel’s members are Prof. Ron Shapira, former Justice Minister Dan Meridor, attorney Tamar Ullmann and MK Zvi Hauser.

The current attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, will leave office on January 30. Sa’ar is also preparing for the possibility that the cabinet won’t approve a new attorney general by that date. If so, Sa’ar would have to appoint an acting attorney general. He recently asked Mendelblit if he would be willing to stay on a little longer if a replacement isn’t found by January 30, but Mendelblit refused.

The search committee was supposed to have started work about two months ago, but it was delayed by a failed attempt to appoint former Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit to the committee. It held its first meeting only on Sunday, to determine its working methods. Its discussions will not be public.

The committee is expected to recommend several candidates to Sa’ar in about a month. Sa’ar will then choose his preferred candidate and bring the appointment to the cabinet for approval.

Baharav-Miara was a government attorney for 30 years, rising to head of the Tel Aviv prosecution’s civil division in 2008. That division represents the state in all civil cases in the Tel Aviv district, including in labor courts and family courts, and is the largest civil division in the country, with around 100 lawyers.

Earlier, Baharav-Miara set up and ran the prosecution’s administrative division. She left the prosecution in 2016 to take the job with Tadmor, Levy & Co.

Her main disadvantage in the race is her lack of experience with criminal cases. But that would be less of an issue if the attorney general’s job is divided in two, as Sa’ar advocates, since the attorney general would no longer be head of the prosecution, but only the government’s legal adviser.

Nizri, who is also deputy attorney general for special affairs, advises the government and other public agencies and assists in preparing legislation in a wide variety of fields. He is considered relatively conservative, meaning he thinks the government should be given wide latitude to make decisions and the attorney general should be sparing in deeming proposals illegal on the grounds that they are unreasonable.

Prior to assuming his current role, Nizri held a variety of positions in the Justice Ministry, including as deputy attorney general for criminal affairs. He was part of the team that drafted the indictment against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but took a more lenient approach that was ultimately not accepted.

Nizri advocated closing one of the three cases, in which Netanyahu was charged with breach of trust for negotiating with the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth over a never-consummated deal for favorable coverage. He also advocated dropping the bribery charge in another case, in which Netanyahu was charged with giving regulatory relief to the Bezeq telecommunications firm in exchange for slanted coverage from its internet news site Walla.

Schondorf advises the government on international law, including international legal proceedings, negotiations over international conventions and how to apply international law to Israeli law. He also represents the state in international forums and was a member of the Turkel Committee, a government-appointed panel that investigated the army’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to the Gaza Strip in 2010.

Schondorf is considered an excellent jurist, but he specializes in international law. Therefore, he is considered unlikely to be appointed attorney general.

Sa’ar is expected to appear before the search committee to discuss his plan to split the attorney general’s job in two, so that the panel can take that into account in making its decisions. But the cabinet must approve such a split, and so far, Sa’ar has been unable to reach an agreement on the issue among its members, since Meretz, Labor and parts of the Kahol Lavan party oppose the idea.

Moreover, even if the cabinet eventually approves splitting the job, the Knesset would have to amend numerous laws – every law where the term “attorney general” appears – before the change could take effect.

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