Editorial

Israel Is Gunning for Its Gatekeepers

A bill that would in effect let cabinet members choose their ministries’ legal advisers is part of the coalition’s program to eliminate checks on its power

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Israel Democracy Institute, March 11, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is firm in her desire to eliminate the gatekeepers. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will debate Monday a bill she sponsored that would radically change how the legal adviser to each government ministry is appointed. Instead of a public selection process that ensures that the appointments are professional, free of political considerations and independent of the ministers, each appointment would be carried out by a selection committee whose composition would be dictated by the minister, in effect giving each minister the power to hire the ministry’s legal adviser.

The “selection committee” would exist in name only, a way to whitewash the complete politicization of the position of ministry counsel. In the name of governability, Shaked seeks to eliminate the gatekeeper function of the legal adviser, protecting human and minority rights and fighting corruption and damage to proper public administration.

Shaked is promoting the bill against the opposition of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who stressed that it could “change the ‘operating code’ of the institution of attorney general and attitudes toward it, and could even cause damage whose severity is difficult to gauge.” If passed, the bill would deal a critical blow to the power of the attorney general, who is represented at the ministry level by the legal advisers.

Mendelblit apparently doesn’t understand that this is precisely Shaked’s aim. She and her allies in the ruling coalition have taken it upon themselves to make the state a litigant who is willing to break the law when it serves his interests.

At stake here is the very character of Israel’s system of government. The right-wing government denies the necessity of restricting governmental power in order to prevent its abuse, seeking unlimited rule for itself. To this end, the right is methodically taking action in three spheres, simultaneously: through legislation such as the High Court of Justice override; through wresting control of law enforcement and other systems by appointing like-minded individuals and through its public smear and delegitimization campaign.

It’s not clear how it’s possible that none of the ministers would have concerns about the tables being turned, that the unrestrained government power they are creating could in the future be used against them by their rivals. Shaked should listen to Mendelblit and to the long list of past and future jurists who have denounced this dangerous proposal — including retired Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch as well as retired justices Gabriel Bach, Edna Arbel and Itzhak Zamir — and withdraw it.

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