Analysis

Netanyahu's Poodle at the Justice Ministry Will Achieve His Goal

Amir Ohana's pick for a key job raises the possibility that Netanyahu is looking for a legal fight, not a plea bargain

Justice Minister Amir Ohana at an event in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2019.
Moti Milrod

As expected, Justice Minister Amir Ohana escalated his confrontation with the judicial system Tuesday by choosing the least experienced, least suitable candidate for the job of acting state prosecutor.

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It’s doubtful that the appointment of Orly Ben-Ari Ginsberg, who failed twice in her bid to be appointed Central District prosecutor, will survive the High Court petitions due to be filed shortly, challenging her appointment as unreasonable.

As had also been anticipated, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced that the nomination was well beyond the pale and that from a legal standpoint, Ben-Ari Ginsberg's appointment couldn't be approved. The attorney general isn't expected to defend the appointment at the High Court of Justice, meaning that Ohana will apparently need a private lawyer to represent him in court on the matter.

The appointment has also been opposed by Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, who until this week hadn't distinguished himself for bucking the power at the top, but his opposition has increased the chances that the appointment will be invalidated by the court.

A cabinet resolution on the subject set a high standard for appointments to the post of state prosecutor. The candidate must have outstanding administrative, legal and leadership capabilities and the same qualifications as those of Supreme Court justices. It's highly doubtful that Ohana will convince the High Court justices that a candidate who failed to be appointed Central District prosecutor due to the strong opposition of her superiors – and who State Prosecutors Moshe Lador and Shai Nitzan refused to promote – would be a reasonable appointment for acting state prosecutor.

“This appointment is an insulting joke,” said one person who would be working under Ben-Ari Ginsberg if she is confirmed. To her credit, others noted her combativeness as a prosecutor and her fervor in fighting serious-crime cases, but they added that she has no experience in government-corruption cases or in other areas that the state prosecutor would deal with.

If the Supreme Court justices keep their hands out of the fire and let the appointment go ahead, the justice minister is expected to face unrest in the coming months: an attorney general working with a state prosecutor he didn't believe had the necessary capabilities, and district prosecutors not accepting her authority as their temporary boss, someone appointed by a government headed by a prime minister facing three indictments.

Whether the appointment is approved or not, for Ohana it’s a win-win. If the Supreme Court justices prevent Ben-Ari Ginsberg from taking the job,  Ohana can label it a jurists’ conspiracy against the politicians and another serious plot by the “deep state.” If the appointment is confirmed, Ohana will brandish his victory over Mendelblit and the chaos that Ohana created at an agency Ohana himself is responsible for and so hates.

In recent decades, the politicians have traditionally allowed the attorney general to select the state prosecutor. The Olmert government chose Moshe Lador when Daniel Friedmann was justice minister. Later, when Lador led the handling of the criminal cases against Olmert, Lador was crucified by those who appointed him and accused of persecution and obsessiveness.

Netanyahu and the justice minister at the time, Tzipi Livni, also let Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein appoint Nitzan state prosecutor.

Mendelblit sought to have Nitzan replaced by the deputy state prosecutor for criminal affairs, Shlomo Lemberger, who had previously been Southern District prosecutor and Tel Aviv District prosecutor. It’s hard to tell whether Lemberger is the best person for the job of state prosecutor, but there's no doubt that his experience and the trust of his employees in him is infinitely higher than that of those working under Ginsberg Ben-Ari.

Since Ohana was appointed justice minister, he has been accused of being the puppet of the prime minister’s residence. He denies the allegations and says there's a “prosecutor’s office within the prosecutor’s office” that chooses its targets, frames them on false allegations and extorts cabinet members and other public servants. He says this was his position before the investigations against the prime minister began.

It’s impossible to know if Netanyahu was in on the secret of the selection process for the new appointee. If Ohana acted at the direction of Netanyahu and members of the prime minister’s family on the issue, this would be further evidence that the prime minister, who is charged with bribery, intends to go to war on Mendelblit and the other jurists whom the prime minister accuses of trying to overthrow his government.

That would run counter, however, to the advice Netanyahu has received from people he confides in and others who have been telling him to cut his losses, enter into confidential discussions with Mendelblit and sign a lenient plea deal – and in the process spare himself the possibility of having to meet the jailers at Wing 10 of Ma’asiyahu Prison.