Likud Minister Request for Outside Legal Opinion on Curbing Protests Shot Down

Amir Ohana wanted to present a legal opinion from right-wing think tank Kohelet Policy Forum, but Kahol Lavan objected ■ Attorney general: Request is ‘provocative and unnecessary’

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, with Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, in Sderot, Israel, August 2020.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, with Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, in Sderot, Israel, August 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Kahol Lavan prevented Public Security Minister Amir Ohana Tuesday from presenting an outside legal opinion by a right-wing think tank stating that the government has a right to restrict protests. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also opposed presentation of the opinion stating that the attorney general is the only legal authority when it comes to advising the state.

Last week, Mendelblit and his deputy, Raz Nizri, made the case that it was not acceptable for the government to pass coronavirus regulations that would limit protests against it. The cabinet decided to accept the attorney general’s recommendation and passed responsibility for potentially restricting demonstrations to the Health Ministry and the attorney general’s office.

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On Friday, the Health Ministry and the police announced that the government had put together a plan approved by Mendelblit that included the rules that would apply to protesters – rules that are in any case part of the coronavirus regulations. After the plan was released, the police said they would not enforce it because it was not approved as regulations.

Ahead of today’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, Ohana asked to present a legal opinion by Prof. Aviad Bakshi and attorney David Peter from the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing think tank, by which the government had the authority to restrict demonstrations. But the cabinet decided that the position would not be presented due to the objection of senior coalition partner Kahol Lavan. “Kahol Lavan vehemently opposed the improper attempt by Minister Ohana to force the participation of an outside legal adviser on the coronavirus cabinet, and to publish an alternative legal opinion to that of the attorney general,” a statement by Kahol Lavan said. “The government of Israel has only one authorized legal adviser. We will not allow the politicization of the work of government professionals.”

Mendelblit himself wrote a letter to Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, asking that only legal opinions prepared by the attorney general’s office be presented to the full cabinet and the coronavirus cabinet. “The intention to invite Prof. Bakshi to the meeting is provocative and unnecessary, and it could lead to the failure of the inter-ministerial committee [on the coronavirus] in its work,” Mendelblit wrote. “As is known, legal counsel to the government is given by the attorney general. A legal opinion is binding for government ministries and the government as long as the courts have not ruled otherwise,” he wrote.

A demonstration against the Prime Minister in front of his official residence, September 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“It would be inconceivable for a minister to bring an outside military expert to a cabinet meeting, who would replace the opinions of the IDF chief of staff or the head of the Shin Bet security service,” Mendelblit added, “to bring an outside police expert to replace the opinion of the police commissioner, or an outside accountant to replace the opinions of the accountant general.”

The meeting on Tuesday ended without a decision on the two matters of contention, protests and prayers. It was due to resume on Wednesday morning, with representatives of the attorney general's office, the Health Ministry and the police expected to come up with recommendations.

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