Israel Justice Minister Picks Acting Prosecutor in Own Image: A Rogue in the System

After Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit determined that Ginsberg Ben-Ari should not be given the job, he is the one who will bar her access to the Netanyahu cases

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Justice Minister Amir Ohana and newly-appointed acting State Prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana and newly-appointed acting State Prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari.
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Why did Justice Minister Amir Ohana choose the deputy prosecutor for the Central District, Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari, as acting state prosecutor?

Even people in the Justice Ministry don’t think this is about a Trojan horse sent by Benjamin Netanyahu to sabotage the cases against him, if only for the simple reason that the indictments are firm. Any change would require reconvening the 25 prosecutors who discussed the cases against Netanyahu, and studying mountains of material.

But mainly this is not considered the reason for her appointment because the State Prosecutor’s Office handles cases against public figures; their disposition is subject solely to decisions by the attorney general. And after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit determined that Ginsberg Ben-Ari should not be given the job, he is the one who will bar her access to the Netanyahu cases, and not only to those.

Israel's attorney general Avichai Mandelblit arrives at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on Thursday, October 3, 2019.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

Moreover, the next phase of the cases, on the issue of immunity for the prime minister, is not only likewise up to the attorney general, but debate over it will take place in the Knesset House Committee after the next government is formed. It is that same committee that will appoint a permanent state prosecutor in place of Ginsberg Ben-Ari.

Amir Ohana met Ginsberg Ben-Ari over a decade ago when he was clerking in the Central District prosecutor’s office and she was already a senior prosecutor there. She was also a contentious figure. Ohana was among those who saw her in a positive light, and obviously still does.

One source in the Central District prosecutor’s office said she was a talented prosecutor with a difficult personality.

“Almost everyone who saw how she handles cases and makes decisions sees her as a good, determined, responsible prosecutor. One wishes she could be summed up with that,” the source said, adding: “There are prosecutors who do good work and go home, and there are those who deal with organizational politics, who look to see who got what case and why, and who said what to whom, which is like a soap opera in the prosecutor’s office. … More than once we wondered when she expressed an opinion whether it was purely a legal opinion or whether it was part of a move in other areas. That’s a shame because she’s an excellent prosecutor.”

Ginsberg Ben-Ari lost her bid for district prosecutor three times. The first time was when she competed against Ariella Segal-Antler for the position of Tel Aviv District prosecutor for criminal affairs. The second time, she lost the position of Central District prosecutor to Ronit Amiel, and the third time was in 2018, when the job went to Rachel Avisar, who is still Central District prosecutor.

A figure from the Central District prosecutor’s office said that every such loss increased Ginsberg Ben-Ari’s grudge against the system.

But the last time was too much for her. After she lost to Amiel, the latter made Ginsberg Ben-Ari her deputy. She was leading the race against Avisar, so much so that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan supported her, and the appointment seemed within reach. But then Nitzan was given negative information about how she had handled a certain case. When Nitzan sought to clarify the matter, she loudly protested his lack of confidence in her. A person involved in the affair said her protest was extreme. Nitzan decided not to look further into the details of the case in question and transferred his support to Avisar.

If Ohana wanted to appoint an opponent of the leadership in the prosecutor’s office, Ginsberg Ben-Ari is the right choice for him. But a person who knows Ginsberg Ben-Ari and the other candidates well said: “From the legal standpoint, she’s no different than the other prosecutors. … She never did things differently, so it’s not clear what he expects her to do differently.”

Ohana said in explaining his choice: “The entirety of her character, her rich experience in a variety of areas, especially criminal cases, her great knowledge and the managerial skills make Orly the most suitable candidate.”

Ginsberg Ben-Ari, 53, holds a master’s degree in national security studies from the University of Haifa and a master’s degree with distinction in law.

She served in the IDF intelligence unit 8200, where she also learned Arabic, which was to give her an advantage later on as an expert in security cases in the prosecutor’s office. She was involved in several high-profile cases, and as head of the parole committees dealt with the release from prison of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

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