Uproar Over Justice Ministry Appointment

Ofir Akunis speaks at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Israel’s High Court issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday night on the appointment of a new justice minister, demanding that the government explain why the court should not invalidate it.

A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., during which the sides in the controversy were ordered to submit their arguments.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ responded to the High Court’s previous order to appoint a permanent justice minister, which he did, but it wasn’t the candidate that his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz had in mind.

Gantz, who had served temporarily in the post, insisted on being reappointed, but Netanyahu chose Likud ally Ofir Akunis instead, precipitating a row at the cabinet meeting that made previous disagreements look polite.

The session featured “frequent shouting, accusations of conflicts of interest, violating the law and a general feel that the Likud and Blue and White could barely even sit in the same room, let alone resolve the issue, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Gantz sent a letter to the High Court alleging that Netanyahu “is leading a process of the destruction of democracy,” and that a justice minister must be appointed immediately in accordance with the law.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit entered the fray on Gantz’s side, declaring the move illegal, as it violated the coalition agreement. Mandelblit asserted that Netanyahu “knowingly and deliberately acted in an illegal manner,” noting that the coalition deal provides that such decisions must be by agreement between the two blocs.

Gantz had been expecting to be appointed Minister of Justice himself today but the cabinet rejected his candidacy by 17-10, and Akunis was confirmed.

Amid the furor, Netanyahu requested a 48-hour stay on a High Court deadline for the appointment.

He claimed, however, that “the decision to appoint Akunis was made legally and with a majority (17-10),” and asked for “another 48 hours to try to reach an agreement between the sides.”

But Mandelblit urged the court to act at once. “There is no choice but to issue an injunction instructing the government to man the post without delay,” he wrote.

He added that if the judiciary must intervene and take it upon itself to appoint a justice minister, it would be a disaster.

The issue threatened to spiral into a full-blown constitutional crisis as the High Court was set to meet to intervene once more to resolve the matter on Tuesday evening.

A senior judicial source was quoted by Channel 12 describing the day’s events as “the worst constitutional crisis Israel has known.” The source also accused Netanyahu of carrying out “a terror attack on democracy” and said he is “a mere step away” from being barred from the premiership.

A senior Likud official told Channel 12 that Netanyahu “made a grave mistake,” placing him at odds with Gantz, the attorney general and the High Court. He said that he does not understand why Netanyahu behaved as he did, since it will only make it more unlikely that he will be able to form a government.

Given the attorney general’s position, he will not be representing the prime minister at the High Court hearing. Instead, Netanyahu will be represented by a private attorney, attorney David Peter.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid seized on the controversy to write that “anyone who even for a moment considered signing any agreement with Netanyahu has received a reminder that there is no chance he will honor any agreement he signs.”

“Anyone offered a rotation by the Likud or Prime Minister should carefully watch today’s conduct at the cabinet session, and think to himself what such a government will look like and what agreements with him will be worth,” said Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Blue and White), referring to reports that Netanyahu has been offering a rotating premiership to Naftali Bennett, Gideon Saar and Benny Gantz.

Saar tweeted that “the saga surrounding the appointment of the justice minister, which reached a peak in a delusional cabinet meeting, is further testimony of the need to replace the government.”

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