Deputy AG Resigns After Blast at Rule of Law’s Enemies

Avi Licht recently complained of 'declining professionalism in the legal service' and development of ideological attitude painting judicial system as illegitimate

Avi Licht, who resigned as Israel's attorney general, seen in 2015.
Emil Salman

Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht has unexpectedly announced his resignation, the Justice Ministry said Monday. Licht, whose bailiwick was economic matters, had served as deputy attorney general for economic issues for six years, until 2016, and was subsequently given a new role, deputy attorney general for management and special tasks.

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Licht, who has served in various positions in the Justice Ministry for 20 years, took part last week in a conference hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute, where he delivered remarks that might explain his decision to retire. “There is a feeling of declining professionalism in the legal service and we are working – as opposed to previous years – in a space of illegitimacy.”

He said that in recent years “most of our work as gatekeepers on issues like promoting the public interest and human rights is perceived among ever-growing groups, including in the Knesset and the government, as illegitimate.” Licht added that an ideological attitude has developed that “what we’re doing is prohibited and can be summed up as ‘who put you in charge?’”

Licht noted the tension between public pressure to limit the work of the attorney general to define “the realm of what is allowed and what is not,” against the backdrop of the sense that the public was against this legal intervention, although many legal experts, including Licht himself, regard attorney generals as the guardians of democratic values.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Licht was “one of the most highly regarded jurists in the public juridical service,” and was closing a “glorious career in the service of the state.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Licht was a “public servant of the highest order” who had “contributed greatly to Israel in implementing various reforms. ... His reforms incorporated a free-market concept and great legal wisdom and real sensitivity to the needs of society.”

He was particularly prominent in the merger of Israel Chemicals with Canadian Potash during the transitional government before the 2013 elections. He spoke out forcefully on the matter of the potential economic concentration of the natural gas monopoly. Nevertheless, he supported the government position on the ability to export natural gas to various countries, and eventually came out in defense of the natural gas plan.

Licht was also involved in the reform led by the Communications Ministry to open the cellphone market to competition. He also supported the work of the Landes committee, which closed down the Israel Broadcasting Authority and opened the new Public Broadcasting Corporation, and he opposed efforts last year to close the new corporation.

Among his posts, Licht also served as deputy head of the High Court petitions department in the State Prosecutor’s Office. During this time he represented the state in prominent cases, including those against the separation barrier in the West Bank and the Tal Law mandating the draft of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.