Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he cannot be involved in his government’s efforts to radically overhaul the legal and judicial system because he has a conflict of interests due to his ongoing corruption trial.
The pronouncement drew a sharp response from Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who accused Baharav-Miara herself of having a conflict of interest in opposing the reforms.
Her warning comes following a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel to the High Court of Justice last month demanding that the attorney general draw up an updated conflict of interests arrangement for Netanyahu after he took office as premier once again in January.
“In your role as prime minister, you must refrain from initiatives involving the legal system within the framework known as ‘the legal reform,’” wrote Baharav-Miara in a letter that was published on Thursday.
“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.
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“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.
Among the government’s proposed legal overhaul is legislation that would give the government an automatic majority on the committee that selects judges for every court in the country, including the Supreme Court.
Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee hearing on his sweeping legal reform agenda alongside the legal adviser to the committee attorney Gur Bligh, February 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Should Netanyahu be convicted on the corruption charges against him in the trial currently being held in the Jerusalem District Court, he would be able to appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court, to which his government is likely to make appointments during its tenure.
The prime minister said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that he was willing to “hear counter offers” to the sweeping legal reform package his government is proposing, implying that he is involved in how the reforms are being formulated and advanced.
The Movement for Quality Government welcomed the attorney general’s warning to Netanyahu, saying the prime minister should “remove his hands immediately from 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 herself having a conflict of interests.
He noted that some of the proposed reforms will affect the position of the attorney general and government legal advisers more generally.
“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.
In January, Baharav-Miara filed an opinion with the High 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 arrangement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in any matters that affect witnesses or other defendants in his trial, or in legislation that would impact the legal proceedings against him.
He also cannot intervene in any issues related to the status of several top police and prosecution officials, in several fields under the responsibility of the Communications Ministry, or in the Judicial Selection Committee.