Reverse Barometer

Without pomp and circumstance, in an ordinary room at the headquarters of the Shin Bet security service, Yehuda Weinstein was inducted this month into the inner sanctum of the state establishment: He took a polygraph test in order to receive high-priority security clearance. In contrast to a previous attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, who had to be persuaded to take the test, Weinstein let himself be hooked up to the machine. He crossed the line between two worlds - the private and the public. Still awaiting is the transition from a defense lawyer's mindset to that of the state's top law-enforcement officer. The state, not the government, is now Weinstein's client.

At midnight tonight, Weinstein will receive the attorney general's seal from his predecessor, Menachem Mazuz. This guarantees a life of toil and sweat that no air-conditioning can overcome: mountains of files, documents and memoranda; thousands of government bills and decisions; and never-ending deliberations for managing the country's largest law firm. It has nearly 1,000 lawyers, 800 of them in the State Prosecutor's Office and 100 in the department of legal advice and legislation. This department's staff will soon double in number. It's a big change for a man of 65 who until now was master of his schedule.

Weinstein is a fighter. Something remains in him of the Israelis who came of age from the time of the Six-Day War to the Yom Kippur War. He grew up in tiny apartments in Tel Aviv, volunteered for the paratroops, was disappointed by the pointless hazing, and regretted having passed up invitations to a pilots course and the navy commandos. He shared a room in an officers course with Gad Manela, who as an operations officer was killed along with Col. Arik Regev in hot pursuit of terrorists. In October 1973 Weinstein was a squad commander in the 317th Brigade of reserve paratroopers that captured the Syrian Hermon in a flanking ruse.

Weinstein will not shirk a decision on Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He need not disqualify himself because Lieberman's name was mentioned in a preliminary hearing involving a slander suit filed by Mikhail Chernoy against rival oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

The problem in the Lieberman case lies not in the substance but in the slowness. The police investigators, who took risks with controversial moves to obtain what they believe is solid evidence, could barely believe the state prosecution's flaccid approach. From below, the Investigations and Intelligence Department headed by police Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, and from above, Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, pressure was put on the middle - the economic unit of the State Prosecutor's Office. They were encouraged to step up the pace so Mazuz would have time to decide whether and on which counts to indict Lieberman. Mazuz's departure and Weinstein's arrival will not change the final result, only the identity of the decider and the timing.

Even though Weinstein has represented well-known politicians, he was not excessively close to them. In all his years as an attorney he only met once with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who finally recommended his appointment (in backroom discussions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more significant). Weinstein also held one phone conversation with Neeman. The first person who called to congratulate him after he won the cabinet's approval was Defense Minister Ehud Barak; they had never met, but Weinstein's daughter once assisted Labor Party MK Eitan Cabel.

Weinstein's appointment would seem to be the fulfillment of the generations-long dream of Likud governments: a private attorney at the head of the prosecution. Only once, when outgoing attorney general Aharon Barak recommended that a university pal, Yitzhak Zamir, succeed him, did a Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, pass up the chance to bring in an attorney general from the private sector. And Begin adored Barak. Under Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, the first preferences were private lawyers Dan Avi-Yitzhak, Roni Bar-On and Eli Zohar. It was only after they were ruled out that Rubinstein, and afterward his deputy Mazuz, were chosen.

In short, all Weinstein's predecessors as attorney general arrived either from the Justice Ministry (Haim Cohn, Mazuz), the defense establishment (Meir Shamgar), academics (Gideon Hausner, Barak, Zamir) or from district courts (such as Moshe Ben-Ze'ev, Michael Ben-Yair and Rubinstein). Weinstein will be the first holder of the post who who did not make the leap from one public-service department to another.

Weinstein's appointers hope to see him as the defense counsel above the prosecutor, Lador. An empathetic attorney general, dispassionate and compassionate, is an essential asset given the breadth of his discretion.

Weinstein, however, is not necessarily more merciful than the evildoers in the state prosecution, certainly not more than Mazuz was in the Greek island case at the outset of his term in June 2004. But the beginning of Weinstein's term will not be compared to the beginning of Mazuz's term and his belief - which astonished the High Court of Justice, too - in Ariel Sharon's "good faith." The comparison will be made to t-he end of Mazuz's term and the indictments against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

As time passed, the ministers' expectation - that Mazuz would prove to be the counterbalance of the state prosecutor, Edna Arbel - was dashed. The same might happen regarding the expectation that Weinstein will shun the approach of Lador and the later Mazuz. But these expectations might be dashed as well: Private lawyers, whose craft lies in acquittals and plea bargains, have the ability to suddenly see the other side of the coin and behave like prosecutors. For example, when they serve as military judges in the reserves, though there, in most cases, the accused are Palestinians. Weinstein was also schooled by his superior in the Central District prosecution in the 1970s, Sara Sirota, who conducted pioneering aggressive and impartial prosecutions against a cabinet minister (Aharon Abuhatzeira) and an MK (Shmuel Rechtman).

With a sharp mind and a potent memory, Weinstein is a jurist who likes to stick to the evidence and examine a case according to its weakest link, which often depends on the dubious impression witnesses make on judges. The same mode of operation is usually followed by the state prosecution and its police arm, the investigations and intelligence unit. Both Lador and Segalovich share Weinstein's approach. After all, no one is eager to fail badly in court, least of all in a high-profile case against a powerful figure.

In a previous incarnation, in the past decade, Weinstein represented a man who had been involved in an accident. He was right in his assessment that the court would acquit the defendant, but was unable to persuade the Jerusalem district prosecutor at the time, Lador, that it was pointless to have a trial. That case is not a harbinger of things to come: Lador has not always agreed with his superiors or subordinates.

One of Weinstein's first tasks will be to restart the suspended process of appointing the head of the Justice Ministry's legal advice and legislation unit - a new position, parallel in rank to that of the state prosecutor, located between the attorney general and the five assistant attorney generals. It was Mazuz who suggested creating the new post, based on the recommendation of consultants.

But in the past year a search committee never got around to considering candidates. Mazuz preferred to wait for the appointment of his successor, Justice Ministry director general Moshe Shilo was replaced by Guy Rotkopf, and in the summer a new civil service commissioner will succeed Shmuel Hollander. Weinstein, just recently found after a search, will now become a searcher.

Weinstein, who has avoided issuing declarations of intent, will probably try to instill pride in his troops to attract the best young attorneys, who within a few short years can acquire precious experience. Afterward, if they want, they will move to the private sector, and years later one of them might return to the system, this time from the top, as attorney general, like Weinstein.

If the prosecution's attorneys are happy with the new attorney general, that's fine. And if the citizens who need the state prosecution are pleased, that will be excellent. But the main gauge of Weinstein will be the opinions of the politicians who appointed him; we will be able to use their satisfaction as a reverse barometer to determine Weinstein's true success.