New Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will find a host of sensitive cases on his desk after he assumed his new position on Monday.
He faces a number of tough decisions on cases left by the outgoing attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein. The latter cleared his desk of a range of issues in recent weeks, but a number of cases and legislative initiatives remain.
Mendelblit assumes the post after serving as cabinet secretary in the Netanyahu government for three years. His new role combines being the head of Israel’s prosecution and the government’s legal adviser.
Wearing his prosecutor’s hat, Mendelblit’s most prominent case involves how to proceed regarding allegations of financial improprieties at the Prime Minister’s two residences.
Weinstein is understood to have hoped to have filed an indictment in the case involving alleged corruption within the Yisrael Beiteinu party, but the prosecutor’s office has yet to complete its work on the indictment.
In addition, Mendelblit will have to decide how to proceed on corruption allegations at Netivei Israel (formerly known as the National Roads Company of Israel) and whether to indict former Tel Aviv district prosecutor Ruth David over suspicions of wrongdoing while she was in office.
Mendelblit will also need to formulate positions on a number of proposed laws, including two particularly explosive ones: a fourth version of the Anti-Infiltration Law, after the High Court of Justice struck down three prior versions as unconstitutional infringements on refugees to Israel; and legislation proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev seeking to bar government funding for artists and arts organizations that are deemed disloyal to the state.
The staff of Weinstein’s office has made repeated efforts to soften or quash proposed sensitive legislation, including a proposal to impose minimum jail terms on stone throwers, which Weinstein opposed. He also put a halt to nationality bills that would have defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people – but both are expected to resurface. Weinstein also spoke out against legislation that would have applied Israeli law to portions of the West Bank; that issue is also expected to be revisited.
Mendelblit was installed in a ceremony at the Israel Bar Association in Jerusalem on Monday. Attendees included President Reuven Rivlin, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar, as well as presiding Supreme Court judges and Justice Ministry officials.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked congratulated Mendelblit and praised the process in which he was selected. “Keep your independence and remain loyal to the truth,” she told him.
Mendelblit cited the need to maintain the attorney general’s independence “in order to maintain the rule of law. We must guard against any attempt to weaken the attorney general. At the same time, we should keep in mind that the rule of law doesn’t mean the reign of the attorney general,” he said.
Responding to criticism of his time in the job, Weinstein said, “I never shied away from the responsibilities I had taken upon myself. In the absence of a reasonable chance of conviction, it is forbidden for a prosecutor to file an indictment. It was on this stance, designed entirely to support the rule of law, that I have been criticized.”
During his term, Weinstein faced criticism over decisions he made in cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before leaving office, Weinstein ordered that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, be questioned under caution. But he was generally viewed as treading lightly when it came to the Netanyahu family. Before his appointment, Weinstein served as the Netanyahus’ personal lawyer.