The High Court of Justice did the right thing Wednesday when it froze the appointment of Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari as acting state prosecutor in response to the petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government. This was after Justice Minister Amir Ohana chose her for the post, ignoring the opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
On Tuesday Mendelblit offered Ohana a way out by presenting two alternative candidates: Southern District attorney for civil matters Zion Eluz, and deputy attorney general for civil matters Orit Cotev. That was after Ohana had made it clear to Mendelblit that he would not appoint the latter’s preferred candidate, Shlomo Lemberger.
Ohana has to understand that the suspicion aroused by the appointment of Ginsberg Ben-Ari is natural. The State of Israel is in an unprecedented situation, in the midst of a third election campaign and trapped in a political dead end because of the legal predicment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing three indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Under these circumstances, how can the public accept the appointment of someone in a relatively junior position – deputy Central District district attorney – against the attorney general’s position and the opinion of Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz? What’s more, the appointment is being made by a minister in a transition government who has repeatedly castigated the judicial system, and the public atmosphere is rent by a battle between the branches of government being conducted by the prime minister himself.
At the farewell ceremony Wednesday for the retiring state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, Mendelblit spoke of the incessant attacks on the two of them because they were dealing in a professional fashion with the cases against the prime minister. Nitzan, Mendelblit said, “was subject to baseless slander and recently had to be assigned personal security.” Mendelblit made it clear that his objection to the appointment of Ginsberg Ben-Ari wasn’t’ “a personal issue, but an overall view of the way we should act to make sure that [Nitzan’s] replacement can do his job independently and impartially, while maintaining the public’s confidence in his motives and decisions.”
If Ohana is truly motivated solely by professional considerations and wants to reduce the level of public suspicion, he would do well to withdraw the controversial appointment, avoid the legal drama it will generate and choose one of the candidates proposed by Mendelblit. This would be a confidence-building move restoring stability to the judicial system and the relationship between the justice minister and the attorney general.