No Justification for Delay in Appointing Senior Public Officials, Israel's Attorney General Says

Due to his ongoing trial, Netanyahu is barred from involvement in the selection of the state prosecutor and police commissioner

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, during a conference in the Israeli coastal town of Herzliya, September 3, 2020.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, during a conference in the Israeli coastal town of Herzliya, September 3, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he would have a hard time defending the continued delay in the appointment of senior public officials before the High Court of Justice, which is due to discuss the issue next week.

Mendelblit warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, that there was no practical justification for the government’s failure to fill senior public positions, including the positions of police commissioner and state prosecutor, and that this has created “significant legal difficulties.”

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On Monday, Mendelblit finalized the terms of conflict of interest limitations on Netanyahu, due to the pending criminal proceedings against him on corruption charges. The limitations bar the prime minister from getting involved in the appointments of law enforcement or judicial system figures, either personally or via someone else.

Permanent appointments to senior civil service positions have been stalled since December of 2018, when the Knesset was dissolved prior to Israel’s twp 2019 elections. The appointments were further deferred in May, after the current government, a fragile coalition built to combat the coronavirus, was sworn in. The coalition agreements bar submitting appointments to the cabinet for approval during the first 100 days of the government, a period that has now elapsed.

The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear a petition challenging the delay in filling the senior posts. Three other petitions have been filed relating to specific positions. Besides the police chief and state prosecutor, senior appointments also include the positions of prison service commissioner, the Finance Ministry accountant general and the directors of government authorities, as well as the directors general of several ministries.

“The failure to take steps... to advance permanent civil service appointments increases the harm to the functioning and stability of the civil service,” Mendelblit wrote. “To the extent that there is no change in the state of affairs as described, there will be great difficulties defending the government’s conduct in these legal proceedings.”

According to Mendelblit's deciison on Monday, Netanyahu cannot interfere in the selection of the state prosecutor, the police commissioner, the deputy attorney general for criminal matters, the head of the investigation division of the police or the commander of the police anti-corruption unit. The prime minister also cannot be involved in the appointment of police investigators or investigators at the Israel Securities Authority – the types of staffers who were involved in his investigations.

Following the disclosure of Mendelblit’s letter, Gantz announced he had instructed his Kahol Lavan party colleague, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, to accelerate the process of appointing a state prosecutor.

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