Scratch, Don't Split

The justice minister is seeking to bypass the rulings of the Supreme Court through legislation.

The public search committee for candidates to succeed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is expected to meet tomorrow under foggy circumstances. Its members do not know whether Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's plan - to split the office of attorney general, passing on the authority on punishments to a "super prosecutor" - will be expedited, or if the current system will be maintained for a four-year period, during which a special committee will sit on the matter.

It should be noted that the proposal to divide the role of the attorney general, which is still on the table, suggests that the opinion of the attorney general on every matter should not bind the government and its ministers as it has to date. This idea originates in the ideology of the previous justice minister, Daniel Friedmann. Like his predecessor, Neeman is also seeking to downplay the role of the attorney general and transform him into a "giver of advice" - as if he were a private attorney whose clients can choose to ignore his recommendations or even replace him, eventually doing whatever they feel is best.

Crushing the stature of the attorney general's opinions and neutering their binding power will remove from the specter of the rule of law the watchdog in the halls of power, in a country where ministers tend to forget that, despite their high positions, the rule of law is still mightier. The modification being proposed is tantamount to the eradication of the legal-public standing of the attorney general, and transforming his role into a legal puppet.

Neeman's position runs contrary to widespread rulings of the Supreme Court, which have become part of the character of Israeli democracy, and which considers the attorney general the first among those enforcing the law on the governing authorities. The Supreme Court ruled that "The opinion of the attorney general on a legal issue reflects, from the point of view of the government, the present and existing legal situation." It also ruled that "The law is that the position of the government and of the authorities with regard to the content of the existing law is determined by the attorney general." This is so when the attorney general and his representatives are not simply "advisers" in the regular sense of the word, and "their opinions are binding on the government."

The justice minister is seeking to bypass the rulings of the Supreme Court through legislation. His dangerous plan can be carried out even if the splitting of the institution of the attorney general is put off until a later time.

Hopefully the government will avoid adopting this mistaken position, whose acceptance will constitute the "assassination" of a role which represents one of the cornerstones of the rule of law in this country.

That would be the case if the institution is split at this time, or if the binding strength of the opinions of the attorney general are canceled.