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The Knesset's Committee for Window Dressing

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Raz Nizri and Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, in 2018.
Raz Nizri and Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, in 2018. Credit: Tomer Applebaum
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

I don’t know if Raz Nizri was truly the best person for the job. Perhaps the candidate favored by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Gali Baharav-Miara, will make a better attorney general than Nizri- the man who served as deputy attorney general for criminal matters, was considered a leading candidate to replace Avichai Mendelblit and announced his resignation this week. People familiar with Baharav-Miara and her work generally have favorable opinions of her.

Nizri has several points in his favor: his vast experience in the Attorney General’s Office, particularly noteworthy when set against Baharav-Miara’s lack of experience in constitutional and criminal law; his position on the cases against Avigdor Lieberman, in which he disagreed with then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, arguing that charges should be filed in the fictitious companies case, which didn’t happen, but not the ambassadorial appointment case, where an indictment was filed but ended with a resounding defeat for the prosecution; and the fact that he supported this even at the cost of a fight to establishing an ombudsman over the prosecution.

There is also criticism of Nizri. Some people say he is very much an organization man who calculates his decisions and battles based on organizational politics considerations. There are also people, like me, who don’t share his conservative, right-wing views. But Nizri isn’t the issue here. Neither is Baharav-Miara.

The issue is the attorney general search committee. It was established in the wake of the Bar-On-Hebron affair, on the recommendation of a panel headed by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar. Its purpose was to reduce the political dimension of the appointment process and create a barrier to prevent the politicians from appointing anyone they felt like.

In this case, the “professionals” on the committee – its chair, former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis; the representative from academia, Prof. Ron Shapira; and the Bar Association’s representative, Tamar Ullmann – all voted for Nizri. Grunis even refused to vote for Baharav-Miara (panel members may vote for more than one candidate), sending a clear message.

In contrast, the current and former politicians on the panel – MK Zvi Hauser, a member of Sa’ar’s party, and former Justice Minister Dan Meridor – chose not to vote for Nizri, thereby leaving him with just three votes. And that wasn’t enough to make him a finalist for the job.

People who think that injustice was done to Nizri theorize that the committee’s political members thwarted him to make it easier for Sa’ar to swiftly appoint his preferred candidate.

The other finalists – Roy Schondorf, the deputy attorney general for international affairs, and Itay Offir, the Defense Ministry’s legal advisor – were considered to have less of a chance, so they wouldn’t interfere with Baharav-Miara’s appointment.

The committee is entitled to recommend or not recommend whomever it pleases, just as the justice minister is entitled to support his own candidate and work to get her appointed. Nor is Sa’ar exceptional.

The last two attorneys general, Weinstein and Mendelblit, were the favored candidates of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and their respective search committees did what he wanted.

(On the latter committee, Grunis also opposed Mendelblit’s appointment due to what he termed a conflict of interest created by Mendelblit’s previous position as cabinet secretary. Mendelblit’s agonizing and lengthy delays before formulating his opinion on the cases against Netanyahu prove that the former Supreme Court president was not entirely wrong.)

But is there any point to the search committee if, in the end, its job is not to choose someone who will be loyal solely to the public interest, with the key test in the appointment process being the candidate’s ability to stand up to powerful people, but rather to serve as a rubber stamp for the politicians’ choice?

If the search committee is nothing but window dressing, meant to dress up the politicians’ decision, maybe it would be better to dispense with it and be honest about what’s happening. The prime minister or the justice minister, depending on which of them is stronger at the time, will appoint whomever they please, and that’s it.

(Meridor’s response: “There were no political considerations in my decision. Beyond that, I’m not interested in commenting.” Sa’ar declined to comment. Hauser did not respond to questions submitted by Haaretz.)

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