The selection committee for the position of attorney general yesterday recommended that the cabinet appoint Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit as the next AG – the only recommendation the panel made. Four members of the committee supported Mendelblit; the committee’s chairman, retired Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, was the sole dissenting voice. The significance of recommending a single candidate is clear: it has been decided – Mendelblit will be the next attorney general.
Although the cabinet must still approve the appointment, it is not expected to encounter any difficulty here, since Mendelblit has been cabinet secretary since 2013 and works closely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That is the very reason the committee should have opposed Mendelblit’s appointment: Proximity to the prime minister could make it difficult when he is forced to make decisions involving Netanyahu personally, and decisions in general regarding the cabinet that Netanyahu heads.
The role of cabinet secretary is politically significant. Beyond the fact that this job has often been a springboard to political life (Isaac Herzog, Yossi Beilin, Dan Meridor and Gideon Sa’ar were all previous incumbents), the cabinet secretary is also obligated to uphold the cabinet’s decisions and, at times, take part in making them. It is hard to see how Mendelblit will now stand on the other side and oppose decisions of the same cabinet he was a practical part of not so long ago. Even if he backs controversial cabinet decisions, he will be suspected of returning the favor to his previous employers, who sought and pushed for his appointment.
Beyond the legal backing that Mendelblit would give to cabinet decisions as attorney general, criminal cases involving cabinet members might also be an obstacle to him in this role. How would someone who worked closely with the prime minister relate to instances like the “Bibi Tours” affair, or the sexual harassment allegations involving Netanyahu’s confidant and former chief of staff Natan Eshel? Would he recuse himself? And if he didn’t, would he be able to deal with these cases without bias? And if he decided to close such sensitive cases, would that not be considered a decision tainted by bias?
Mendelblit’s involvement in the Harpaz affair, where the case against him was closed for lack of evidence, does not automatically exclude him from serving as attorney general. But after six years of service by the current attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein – who had previously served as the Netanyahu family’s personal attorney – and with the backdrop of suspicions of foul play in the Prime Minister’s Office and his residence, an attorney general should be selected who is completely detached from the premier and those around him.
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