On Wednesday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara notified Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he could not participate in the government’s efforts to dramatically revamp the legal and judicial system because of his continuing corruption prosecution.
The declaration was met with strong criticism from the coalition party leaders, who declared in a joint statement that it went against the “unambiguous mandate” the government had been given by the voters.
Baharav-Miara issued the warning after the Israeli group Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court of Justice last month, asking that Netanyahu’s conflict of interests agreement be revised since he returned to power as prime minister in January.
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Security authorities have “real concern” that Baharav-Miara could be injured, the Haaretz daily said on Thursday, raising the threat level for her to the maximum conceivable level. According to the article, the attorney general will have a larger security detail.
In her letter that was released publicly on Thursday, Baharav-Miara wrote to Netanyahu: “In your role as prime minister, you must refrain from initiatives involving the legal system within the framework known as ‘the legal reform.”
“This is due to the reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interests between issues pertaining to the legal proceedings against you, and the array of legislative initiatives and their substantive components” that the government is advancing in its package of legal reforms, she continued.
“This includes any direct or indirect action or instruction through others, including the involvement of officials serving in your office as political appointees,” the attorney general added.
The planned legal overhaul includes new laws that would give the government a supermajority on the panel responsible for selecting justices for all federal courts, including the Supreme Court.
In the event that Netanyahu is found guilty of corruption charges in his trial before the Jerusalem District Court, he would have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, to which his government is likely to designate judges during its term in office.
While discussing his government’s proposed comprehensive legal reform package with CNN on Tuesday, the prime minister stated he was open to “hearing counter offers,” suggesting that he has some say in the process of formulating and advancing the reforms.
The coalition’s party leaders issued an unified statement condemning the attorney general’s letter, calling her attitude “in stark contrast to the unmistakable mandate that we got from Israeli citizens in the election” and stating they “absolutely rejected” it.
“There is no connection between the legal reform of [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin whose goal is to restore democracy to Israel, and the prime minister’s issues,” they continued.
“The ones who have a conflict of interests are in fact the legal advisers. With one hand they are fighting the reforms in public and in the Knesset, which will affect their status, and with the other hand they are exploiting their positions in order to thwart it.”
According to a Likud spokesman, Netanyahu and the heads of Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yitzhak Goldknopf, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Noam issued the statement.
Upon hearing the attorney general’s warning to Netanyahu, the Movement for Quality Government issued a statement praising the decision but calling on the prime minister to “immediately remove his hands from the destruction of Israel’s legal and democratic system.”
While the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Justice Minister Tzipi Levin was very critical of Baharav-letter Miara and accused her of having a conflict of interest.
Some of the proposed changes, he said, will have an impact on the role of the attorney general and other government legal advisors.
“It seems that a conflict of interests is a very strange thing. For an elected official to speak about reforms to legal advice is forbidden, but the attorney general and her staff are allowed to block reforms that directly affect their powers,” said Levin.
Attorney General Baharav-Miara filed an opinion with the High Court in January stating that her predecessor Avichai Mandelblit’s 2020 conflict of interest agreement for Netanyahu was still in effect.
As part of the agreement, Netanyahu is barred from taking part in any activities that could compromise the credibility of witnesses or other defendants in the case against him or in any legislation that could affect the legal proceedings.
In addition, he has no say over matters involving the careers of several high-ranking police and prosecution officials, a number of policy areas overseen by the Ministry of Communications, or the Judicial Selection Committee.
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