Justice Minister Proves Not So Just in Meddling With Attorney General Selection

Ayelet Shaked's improper involvement in attempting to influence the attorney general selection shows how vital transparency is to the purity of process.

AFP

The attorney general is the most important senior official in Israel. He is the authorized interpreter of the law, unless the Supreme Court intervenes in his decisions (and it seldom does). He is the head of the prosecution, determining who will be interrogated by the police and against whom indictments will be issued, including members of cabinet and the prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, politicians have a great interest in the identity of the attorney general, who is appointed for a six-year term. Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure in the appointment of the attorney general in 1997, which was found tainted with extraneous interests, a committee was formed, headed by former attorney general and Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar. In light of that committee’s recommendations, the attorney general was subsequently appointed via a process that included a selection committee, whose recommendations of between one and three candidates were then brought before the cabinet for approval.

In this way, politicians retain the power to make the final decision, but only from a short list of candidates who made it through the committee – whose members include representatives of the government (the cabinet and the Knesset), alongside academics and members of the Israel Bar Association, and headed by a retired Supreme Court justice appointed by the justice minister. This process is intended to create a proper balance on several levels: between the professional and political spheres; between the committee and the cabinet; and between the justice minister, prime minister and cabinet, which approves the appointment.

Last week, Haaretz reported the attempts by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) to influence the work of the search committee, headed by the previous Supreme Court president, retired justice Asher Grunis. These alleged attempts could distort the process and unduly influence the outcome. Shaked held personal meetings with four of the five members of the committee, without documenting the meetings or reporting to the committee. This is in addition to her official appearances before the committee, which is the proper framework to have her position heard.

Shaked’s actions are not illegal, but they are inappropriate and unacceptable. These meetings raise the concern that she was attempting to persuade committee members to support the candidate she favors, either by voting for that person or by depriving other candidates of their vote, denying them the opportunity for consideration by the cabinet. Shaked’s actions arouse concerns over the selection process and even the independence of the new attorney general.

The appropriate time for the justice minister’s involvement was before the Grunis Committee began its work, and again when it is over. Reports of Shaked’s actions show how vital transparency is to the selection committee’s work, in uncovering the powers acting behind the scenes in appointing the most important figure in public service. They also show how essential it is to keep the selection process untainted, to ensure the independence of the next attorney general.