The Attorney General: The Prime Minister should not deal with judicial reform because of a corruption trial

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he cannot participate in his government’s efforts to overhaul the legal and judicial system because he is in a conflict of interest due to his ongoing corruption trial.

The statement drew a sharp response from the heads of all coalition party leaders, who said in a joint statement that it went against the “unequivocal mandate” received by the government in the election.

Baharav-Miara’s warning followed petition filed from the Movement for Quality Governance in Israel to the Supreme Court of Justice last month requesting that the attorney general draw up an updated conflict of interest agreement for Netanyahu after he takes office again as prime minister in January.

Also on Thursday, the daily Haaretz reported that the threat level for Baharav-Miara had been raised to the highest possible level, with security agencies citing “real concern” that she could be harmed. The report said security around the attorney general would be increased.

In her letter, which was made public on Thursday, Baharav-Miara wrote to Netanyahu: “In your role as prime minister, you must refrain from initiatives involving the legal system in the framework known as ‘legal reform.’

“This is because of the reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interest between matters relating to the legal proceedings against you and the set of legislative initiatives and their essential components” that the government is advancing in its package of legal reforms, she continued.

“This includes any direct or indirect actions or instructions through others, including the involvement of employees working in your office as political appointees,” the attorney general added.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rotman leads a committee hearing on his sweeping legal reform agenda with committee legal adviser attorney Gur Bly February 1, 2023. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

The government’s proposed legal overhaul includes legislation that would give the government an automatic majority on the commission that selects judges for every court in the country, including the Supreme Court.

If Netanyahu is convicted of the corruption charges against him in the trial, which is currently being held in the Jerusalem District Court, he will be able to appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court, where his government is likely to make appointments during his term.

said the prime minister in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that he was willing to “hear counter-offers” to the sweeping package of legal reforms his government is proposing, implying that he has a hand in how the reforms are formulated and progressed.

Coalition party leaders condemned the attorney general’s letter, saying in a joint statement that her position was “in complete opposition to the unequivocal mandate we received from Israeli citizens in the election” and that they “totally reject” her position.

“There is no connection between the legal reform of [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin, whose goal is to restore democracy in Israel, and the problems of the Prime Minister,” they continued.

“Those who have a conflict of interest are actually the legal advisers. On the one hand, they are fighting reforms in society and in the Knesset that will affect their status, and on the other hand, they are using their positions to thwart it.

A Likud spokesman said the statement was issued on behalf of Netanyahu, along with Shas leader Arie Deri, United Torah Judaism leader Yitzhak Goldnopf, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, Otzma Yehudith leader Itamar Ben Gvir and Noam Avi leader Maoz.

The Quality Governance Movement welcomed the attorney general’s warning to Netanyahu, saying the prime minister must “immediately take his hands off the destruction of Israel’s legal and democratic system.”

Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Levin, the justice minister, strongly criticized Baharav-Miara’s letter and accused her of a conflict of interest.

He noted that some of the proposed reforms would affect the position of the attorney general and state legal advisers more generally.

“Conflict of interest seems to be a very strange thing. “An elected official is prohibited from speaking about reforms to legal councils, but the attorney general and her staff have the power to block reforms that directly affect their authority,” Levin said.

In January, Baharav-Miara filed an opinion with the Supreme Court stating that a conflict of interest agreement drawn up by her predecessor Avichai Mandelblit in 2020 for Netanyahu was still in effect.

Under the agreement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in any matters that affect witnesses or other defendants in his trial, or in legislation that would affect the legal proceedings against him.

It also cannot interfere in any matters related to the status of several senior police and prosecution officials, in several areas under the responsibility of the Ministry of Communications, or in the Judicial Selection Commission.

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