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The Task of Israel's New Gatekeeper

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New Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, during her inauguration on Tuesday.
New Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, during her inauguration on Tuesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Gali Baharav-Miara was appointed attorney general on Monday. She is replacing Avichai Mendelblit, who served a dramatic six-year term that climaxed with the indictment of a sitting prime minister. Though Baharav-Miara was Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s preferred candidate, she must quickly grasp that her job is not merely to advise the government, but also to serve as an emissary of all Israelis, one whose job is to promote the rule of law.

The first role of every attorney general is to keep the government from acting illegally. To close her eyes to illegal conduct by the government would be to betray the trust placed in her. The attorney general must also stop the government from doing things that are technically legal but immoral, as it frequently does with regard to crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank or the Jewish takeover of Arab homes in East Jerusalem.

Baharav-Miara will have to fight with all her might against efforts to split the attorney general’s job in two – an effort whose goal is to weaken this important institution. If the job is split, so that she is no longer both the government’s legal adviser and head of the prosecution, she must jealously preserve the complete independence of whoever is appointed to head the prosecution, since there is concern that a hostile takeover of the institution may be attempted.

Baharav-Miara will have to fight government corruption fearlessly, professionally, effectively and without favoritism. She will have to learn that foot-dragging, which was common under Mendelblit, is a recipe for failure. She will have to stand like a fortified wall against populist measures meant to turn Israel’s democracy into a dictatorship of the parliamentary majority, and she must zealously preserve the system of checks and balances and defend the other gatekeepers and oversight institutions, both official and unofficial.

It is part of her job not to assume that every government policy is legal. A policy that promotes Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, for example, is a patently illegal policy. She will also have to point out and oppose any government policy that undermines equal rights or equal opportunity for all Israelis.

The system Baharav-Miara now presides over is a powerful one that exerts great influence. But there is no room for euphoria, self-congratulation or boastfulness. A good attorney general will promote thorough systemic oversight of all the fields within her purview, as well as substantive criticism from the outside, in order to uncover improprieties and weak spots.

Above all, Baharav-Miara will have to be focused, honest and courageous. Only thus will she be able, at the end of her term, to hand the citadel of the rule of law over to her successor in better shape than she found it upon taking office.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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