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Israel’s attorney general tells Netanyahu not to intervene in judicial reform

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

The Israeli attorney general told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday to refrain from involvement in proposed changes to Israel’s judicial system because he still falls into the category of having a conflict of interest. 

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Netanyahu is still bound by the conflict-of-interest position he received during his previous term as prime minister, which prohibits him from being involved in both the legislation and implementation of judicial reforms, including negotiations proposed by Israeli President Isaac Herzog. 

The attorney general said these restrictions would not extend to a prohibition for voting on the legislation as a Knesset member. 

In her instructions, Baharav-Miara claims, “the existence of a reasonable concern of a conflict of interest between [Netanyahu’s] personal affairs relating to the trial in which he is a defendant, and material elements of the [judicial reform] initiatives.”

She stated that this directive is “in accordance with the standards detailed in the opinion and approved in the judgment in the 2021 conflict of interest petition” and “also applies to the provision of direct or indirect guidance through other parties in all matters relating to the advancement of initiatives.” 

Critics of the proposed judicial reforms fear they would give more influence over the selection of justices to elected politicians, thus allowing Netanyahu a way to influence the judges who could hear his trial, which involves breach of trust and other allegations. 

Proponents of the legislation suggested that the present system, which allows sitting judges to select their own successors, gives the Supreme Court justices too much power and influence beyond their scope of service.

In the opposing camp, the attorney general stated, “such a change [of the judicial system] concerns the personal interests of the prime minister, and is therefore tainted by a clear conflict of interest.”

Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that it is “false” to suggest he would receive personal benefit from the reforms.

“None of the reforms that we’re talking about … have anything to do with my trial. And, by the way, the trial is unraveling,” Netanyahu told CNN’s Jake Tapper. 

“You need the balance between three branches of government. In Israel, that balance has been thrown askew and you have one branch … the judiciary basically arrogating to itself the powers of the legislative and the government,” he added. 

Baharav-Miara's instruction does not place restrictions on Israel's Justice Minister Yariv Levin or Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman. The justice minister introduced the reforms in the beginning of January, and Rothman is processing the reforms through the Justice Committee so the Knesset can vote on them hereafter. 

The justice-reform sponsor responded to attorney general's letter by suggesting she is ignoring other problems in her purview by busying herself “writing another opinion aimed at preventing the prime minister from expressing his views.”

“It turns out that a conflict of interest is a strange thing. An elected official is not allowed to talk about reforming the legal counsel, but the legal adviser and her staff are allowed to act to thwart the reform that directly concerns their powers," Levin said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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