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Israel’s attorney general warns Netanyahu not to interfere in judicial reform

Gali Baharav-Miara's directive would prevent the PM from giving direct or indirect advice as the legislative package progresses.

Gali Baharav-Miara, attorney general of Israel, speaks at Tel Aviv University, Sept. 28, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Gali Baharav-Miara, attorney general of Israel, speaks at Tel Aviv University, Sept. 28, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that he should not involve himself in his government’s judicial reform proposals due to a conflict of interests.

In a letter sent to the prime minister, she said there’s a reasonable fear of a conflict of interest due to his ongoing trial. Netanyahu, on trial since May 2020, faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The attorney general said her directive applies to “giving direct or indirect guidance through other parties, as far as the promotion of the [judicial reform] initiatives are concerned.

“The application of the limitations established by the High Court of Justice ruling leads to the general conclusion that you must refrain in your role as prime minister from taking part in initiatives touching on the legal system, in the framework of the process termed ‘legal reform,’ ” her letter states, apparently referring to the Supreme Court’s May 2020 decision that Netanyahu could serve as prime minister despite the cases against him, with the provision that he avoid conflicts of interest pertaining to those cases in the performance of his duties.

Minister of Justice Yair Levin criticized the attorney general, saying, “It turns out that conflict of interest is a strange thing. An elected official is not allowed to talk about reform pertaining to legal advice, but the legal adviser and her team are allowed to act to thwart the reform that directly concerns their powers.”

Last week, the heads of the parties in Netanyahu’s governing coalition accused Baharav-Miara of holding discussions regarding the possibility of forcing him to take a leave of absence.

According to Hebrew media reports, Baharav-Miara had intended to base her decision on the grounds that the government’s judicial reform package would impact Netanyahu’s corruption trial and therefore his continued active service as head of the government constituted a conflict of interest.

She denied these reports as fake news on Jan. 23.

It is not clear whether Netanyahu will abide by the attorney general’s decision as part of the judicial reform package addresses the role of government legal advisers, who the government says have become too powerful. The attorney general’s title in Hebrew translates directly to “legal adviser to the government.”

A draft bill being discussed in Knesset committee would allow ministers to choose whether to follow their legal advisers’ opinions.

“Legal advice given to the prime minister and any minister of the government will not bind them. The government, the prime minister and any minister of the government may reject the legal advice and act contrary to it,” the bill’s summary states.

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