Israel's Justice Minister Wants Government to Appoint Attorney General

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Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Jan. 16, 2017.
Justice Minister Shaked.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The cabinet should be able to appoint the attorney general on its own, rather than using an apolitical search committee as it does today, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked argued in a recent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The letter was first reported Tuesday evening by Channel 2 television.

In her letter, Shaked urged Netanyahu to bring a resolution she drafted on this issue to a cabinet vote.

Currently, an external search committee headed by a retired Supreme Court justice interviews all candidates for attorney general. It can forward up to three names to the justice minister, who then decides which name to submit to the cabinet – or, if only one name is forwarded, whether to accept or reject the candidate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Avichai Mendelblit, November 2015.Credit: Dan Balilty/AP

A nominee must be approved by four of the committee’s five members for his name to be forwarded. Last time, Avichai Mendelblit was the only candidate to receive the requisite votes.

Shaked’s proposal would abolish this committee. Instead, candidates for attorney general would be vetted by the Turkel Committee, which vets all other senior civil service appointments. Any candidate not disqualified by this panel would be forwarded to the justice minister, who would then choose the one he or she prefers and forward this choice to the cabinet for approval.

“After having completed three attorney-general searches with the current system, reality has shown that this system is futile, unworkable and, even worse, significantly limits the discretion of the government and does not serve it,” Shaked wrote in her letter. She attached a legal opinion saying there was no legal barrier to changing the system as she proposes.

The letter was sent in late January, but Netanyahu has not yet responded.

It is not clear whether Shaked’s proposal has any chance of advancing. The coalition agreements give the Kulanu party a veto over any change in the legal system, and it has not yet decided whether to support or oppose this one.

One party source said the issue isn’t clear-cut. While the attorney general is supposed to serve the government, the search committee has already proven that it isn’t an independent body which would ignore the government’s preference, he argued. Last time around, he noted, the committee did forward Mendeblit, who was Shaked’s choice.

Until 2000, the attorney general was chosen by the method Shaked proposes. But that year, the system was changed pursuant to the recommendations of a public committee set up after a 1997 scandal. The scandal involved suspicions that the attorney general was chosen as part of a corrupt deal.

Shaked has long made it clear that she wants to change the system. “The basic norm set in various laws about appointing senior civil servants is that the relevant minister proposes a nominee and the cabinet decides whether to appoint him,” she said last year, noting that this system is used for the army chief of staff, the police commissioner and “other key positions.”

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