Who Needs the Turkel Committee?

The panel has two hidden goals: to deter ministers from proposing unacceptable candidates, and to "immunize" appointments against High Court petitions.

The complications involved in the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant show how nonessential is the advisory committee on senior appointments, whose decisions are approved either by the cabinet (in the case of the chief of staff, police commissioner, Israel Prisons Service commissioner, Bank of Israel governor and deputy governor ) or by the prime minister (heads of the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad ).

In the current phase of the Galant affair, the committee consists of retired Justice Jacob Turkel, Moshe Nissim, Gila Finkelstein and Shmuel Hollander; the latter's membership actually expired, however, when he ended his term as civil service commissioner.

The Turkel panel was negligent in its declared purpose: preventing an appointment that would be problematic in terms of the candidate's integrity, or because of his relationship to the minister who proposed him. The committee did something that should not have been done (expressed a learned opinion about Galant's professional achievements ), and did not do what should have been done (scrutinized him in terms of probity ). It only needed to meet twice on two days, at which time it did not challenge the four witnesses it called - Galant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi - but rather echoed their statements.

The term "rubber stamp" is not proper here, because it is an insult to the rubber.

The senior appointments committee, which was conceived in 1997 as a result of the lessons learned from Netanyahu's failure to appoint an attorney general, does not often reject candidates. Indeed, it seems never to have reached that point, although it came very close in 2007 when it persuaded Yaakov Ganot to withdraw his candidacy for police commissioner.

The panel has two hidden goals: to deter ministers from proposing unacceptable candidates, and to "immunize" appointments against High Court petitions. The latter goal derives from the fact that the committee's chairman (Gabriel Bach and then Turkel ) is a former High Court member, and also from the fact that, if the attorney general is called upon to defend an appointment before the High Court, he can use the committee's deliberations to prove its consideration and reasonableness.

The Turkel committee had no team of aides or tools to summon witnesses or examine documents. It did not warn Barak against choosing Galant, by having him first thoroughly check the candidate's personal background - as opposed to his military record. Barak could have asked the Defense Ministry's security department to conduct such a probe (which would also have looked into other declared candidates for chief of staff ). Because of negligence, the strengthening of the appointment in light of High Court petitions failed. The justices have presented the attorney general with sharp questions and sent him to prepare for a second round.

Without a decision to instruct the police to open a criminal investigation (against Galant, other army officers or officials in the Israel Lands Administration ), Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also has had no means to summon witnesses. An old-new player then entered the field to his surprise - a pleasant surprise in his case: the State Comptroller's Office. The department in that office that deals with administration and the Civil Service Commission has amassed a great deal of material. The head of that department, Benny Goldman, is known to be very determined and focused in his task, and he sometimes clashed with Hollander, among others.

In September, when the petition was submitted to the High Court, Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss volunteered to bring the attorney general some material about Galant. The comptroller then ceased dealing with the matter, at least as far as Weinstein knew.

But last week something in that material (shocking contradictions - or maybe false information that was uncovered? ) attracted the attention of Lindenstrauss' senior adviser, attorney Arie Roter. When the latter was legal counsel for the Shin Bet security service, he maintained a close relationship with the High Court petitions department of the State Prosecutor's Office. The chain reaction of Roter's approach to the High Court petitions department thus brought about the convergence of the separate trajectories taken by the comptroller and the attorney general.

That is the background to Galant's hearing yesterday before Lindenstrauss, and the creative use of the comptroller's powers to collect findings the attorney general needs to prepare his response to the High Court.

The Turkel committee should be abolished and its powers given to the state comptroller, whose team is skilled and experienced. The comptroller's report to the Knesset State Control Committee will be useful to effect greater monitoring of the puppet government which, in blind obedience, voted for Barak's recommendation, to which the Turkel panel agreed.