Israel's Attorney General Assumes Role of State Prosecutor, Justice Minister Objects

On Thursday, a temporary injunction issued by the High Court of Justice barred extending the tenure of the acting state prosecutor, leaving the responsibilities of the office to the attorney general

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Jerusalem, February 2020.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Jerusalem, February 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Sunday that he would serve as acting state prosecutor, after the High Court of Justice temporarily barred extending the tenure of the acting state prosecutor.

Last Thursday, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction barring the extension of Dan Eldad’s term of office, and against replacing him once his term expired on Friday. The ruling effectively left the prosecutor’s job in Mendelblit's hands.

In the absense of an acting state prosecutor, Mendelblit said that he would oversee the office, while the daily operations would be carried out by the deputy state prosecutors.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaking at an accountants' conference, Jerusalem, March 2, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who appointed Dan Eldad earlier this year, blasted the decision, saying that the attorney general cannot appoint himself to the office of state prosecutor given “the absence of any legal precedent for such a move,” saying that acting Justice Ministry Director General Sigal Jacoby will take over the administrative responsibilities of the state prosecutor's office instead. "We still live in a state of law," Ohana wrote.

In a letter of protest written to the attention of Civil Service Commissioner Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, Ohana said he did not recognize Mendelblit's authority over the state prosecutor's office. "The concentration of such powers is incompatible with any principle that underlies our legal system," the letter said.

In response, Mendelblit argued this "interim solution" had in fact previously been implemented. “The authorities of the state prosecutor, with a few exceptions, are drawn from the authority of the attorney general," Mendelblit explained, "therefore in the absence of a permanent state prosecutor or acting state prosecutor, this authority returns automatically to the attorney general.”

“This is in no way a case of the attorney general appointing an acting state prosecutor," Mendelblit added, "and depicting it as such is a misrepresentation.”

Netanyahu and the judiciary

Ohana and Mendelblit have been at loggerheads over the appointment of a state prosecutor ever since the last person to hold the position, Shai Nitzan, stepped down after completing his five-year term in December 2019.

In his letter, Ohana hinted at the fact that the attorney general was hoping to obscure proceedings in the so-called Harpaz affair, a decade-old legal battle concerning attempts to improperly sway the process for selecting the military chief of staff to succeed Gabi Ashkenazi in 2011. Netanyahu was reportedly looking into old transcripts of the proceedings earlier this year in an attempt to discredit Mendelblit, who was military advocate general at the time.

Former acting state prosecutor Dan Eldad, December 16, 2019.Credit: Justice Ministry Spokesperson

Haaretz learned from a senior Justice Ministry official late last month that in private conversations, Mendelblit accused Ohana and Eldad of seaking to oust him as attorney general and that he did not rule out the possibility that the prime minister was also involved in this alleged effort.

Eldad claimed that the court wanted to oust him because he began to look into information about Mendelblit, and defended himself saying he was only following a request by Channel 13 journalist Akiva Novick. Eldad wrote: "Before the holiday, a journalist, who is investigating Avichai Mandelblit, came to my office. So that I could respond to his request, I asked to look at previous material on this issue at the state prosecutor's office."

Ohana, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been accused of attempting to use his position in order to derail the legal proceedings against the premier in his upcoming corruption trial. Mendelblit charged Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in November of 2019.

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