Israel Court Freezes Controversial State Prosecutor Appointment, Deepening Row With Minister

Attorney general says won't back down as justice minister defends his pick for acting state prosecutor, which civil society organization says was designed to undermine legal case against Netanyahu

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Outgoing State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, right, and Attorney General Mendelblit, center.
Outgoing State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, right, and Attorney General Mendelblit, center, at the farewell ceremony for Nitzan, Dec. 18, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday morning temporarily froze the appointment of Orly Ben-Ari Ginsberg as acting state prosecutor.

Justice Menachem Mazuz issued the order suspending her appointment minutes before she had been due to be sworn in to succeed Shai Nitzan. Justice Minister Amir Ohana had announced his choice of Ben-Ari Ginsberg a day earlier.

The suspension order on the appointment of Ben-Ari Ginsberg, who is currently a deputy prosecutor in the Central District, came in response to a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. Mazuz gave the state 10 days to respond to the petition, which alleges that the appointment was unreasonable in the extreme and was motivated by extraneous considerations.

The petition alleges that the selection of Ben-Ari Ginsberg was designed to undermine the power of “the gatekeepers and law enforcement officials connected to the investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” a reference to indictments that have been filed against the prime minister in three pending cases.

The petition was initially assigned to Justice Noam Solberg, who recused himself, saying he had family and social ties to Shlomo Lemberger, the candidate whom Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit supported as acting state prosecutor.

In a letter to Ohana on Tuesday opposing the appointment of Ben-Ari Ginsberg, Mendelblit wrote that the nomination exceeds “in the extreme” the scope of what is reasonable and is therefore legally impermissible.

Justice Minister Ohana and Orly Ben Ari-Ginsberg at the farewell ceremony for Shai Nitzan, Dec. 18, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

For his part, however, Ohana has said many senior legal officials have praised Ben-Ari Ginsberg’s work and achievements in recent years and that he was convinced that her qualifications and character, along with what he said was her vast legal knowledge attained over the years and her management skills make her the most appropriate candidate for acting state prosecutor.

In public remarks on Wednesday at a farewell ceremony for Shai Nitzan, which had initially also been slated to welcome Ben-Ari Ginsberg, Mendelblit said he would not compromise on the matter of the appointment.

“The prosecutor’s office will continue to be an independent and apolitical entity,” he said. “There is no aim here to quarrel with anyone, certainly not with the justice minister, whom I greatly respect,” he added. “The position of acting [state prosecutor] is not meant, heaven forbid, to be a setting for a fight between a minister and the attorney general. This doesn’t involve a personal issue.”

Ben-Ari Ginsberg began working at the Central District State Prosecutor’s Office in 1992. In January 2018, she was one of three candidates to head that office, but Rachel Avishar was chosen for the job. Ben-Ari Ginsberg was again an unsuccessful candidate at Central District prosector in 2012.

Ben-Ari Ginsberg has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law with distinction from Tel Aviv University and currently teaches at the university.

Civil Service commissioner’s opposition

Following Ohana’s announcement of Ben Ari-Ginsberg’s appointment. Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz advised the minister that her appointment could “undermine the proper functioning of the prosecution” and that her previous position, deputy prosecutor for the central division, was not high enough in the organizational hierarchy to merit her appointment as acting state attorney.

The only state prosecutor who was appointed to the post without first having served as district prosecutor or deputy state prosecutor was Zvi Bar Nir, who was tapped in 1962.

Eliad Shraga, the chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, called the appointment a highly serious matter and noted that Ohana had been appointed justice minister by Netanyahu, against whom the State Prosecutor’s Office is now pursing criminal charges. Shraga alleged that the prime minister specifically appointed Ohana to destroy the prosecutor’s office.

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