Editorial

Legal Loyalty

Civil servants and gatekeepers are being asked to display blind loyalty to their political superiors, not to constitutional law. In Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s view, the state’s legal service isn’t supposed to advise the government, but to legalize every atrocity

FILE Photo: Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has had Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber in her sights for quite some time. In fact, Zilber has been targeted by the settlers and their representatives ever since she recommended, back in 2015, that the government stop funding the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division.

Shaked plays a key role in the all-out war that Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is waging on the state’s gatekeepers, while Zilber has long fought to preserve democracy from Shaked’s destructive behavior. Now the justice minister has finally found a pretext for getting rid of her.

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According to Shaked, Zilber expressed her personal opinion, and thereby violated civil service regulations, which require government employees to represent the views of their ministry and the cabinet’s decisions. However, Zilber’s remarks infuriated Shaked not because they expressed her personal opinion, but because they were right.

Speaking to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee on Tuesday, before the committee voted to forward the so-called “cultural loyalty” bill to the full Knesset for its final readings, Zilber put this benighted bill into its proper context. “Let us have obedient legal advisers, castrated artists, a bridled media, and a people disciplined and educated to all think alike,” she said, revealing the true purpose of the recent wave of right-wing legislation. She also warned against an “everyone’s against me” style of conversation “that offends and scars our shared social fabric, that pigeonholes and labels. Who is for us and who is against us. If some are loyal, then are there also some who are traitors? A fifth column?”

Shaked’s response proved that Zilber was right. “If a senior civil servant wants to get into political issues rather than remain on the legal playing field, he is invited to resign. ... It’s impossible to do this as part of the Attorney General’s Office,” Shaked said, displaying the same logic that Culture Minister Miri Regev has in the Culture Ministry: Anyone unwilling to produce art to the government’s taste should fund himself.

Civil servants and gatekeepers are being asked to display blind loyalty to their political superiors, not to constitutional law. The government browbeats them, and anyone who doesn’t agree with it is compared to a fifth column, someone who ought to be fired. In Shaked’s view, the state’s legal service isn’t supposed to advise the government, point out flaws and warn of injustices that shouldn’t be committed, but to legalize every atrocity.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s weak response to Shaked’s destructive demands shows that he, too, is betraying his office. He did say that Shaked has “no business intervening” in this issue, but also said that until an inquiry into Zilber’s conduct is finished, she won’t appear before the Knesset or the cabinet.

Mendelblit needs to understand that Shaked’s assault isn’t aimed only at Zilber, but at the very institution of the attorney general and the rule of law. He must reject Shaked’s demands out of hand and enable Zilber to resume doing her job.

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