Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he cannot be involved in his government’s efforts to radically overhaul the legal and judicial system, citing a conflict of interest over his ongoing corruption trial.
The ruling drew a sharp reaction from Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who himself accused Baharav-Miara of having a conflict of interest in opposing the reforms.
Her warning follows a petition filed to the Supreme Court last month by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that the attorney general draw up an updated conflict of interest regime for Netanyahu after he resumed as prime minister in January.
“In your role as prime minister, you must refrain from any initiatives involving the justice system within the framework known as ‘the legal reform,'” Baharav-Miara wrote in a letter published Thursday.
“This is due to the reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interest between issues relating to the legal proceedings against you, and the range of legislative initiatives and their substantive components” that the government is continuing in its package of legal reforms, she continued.
“This includes any direct or indirect action or instruction through others, including the involvement of officials who serve in your office as political appointees,” the attorney general added.
Among the legal revisions proposed by the government 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.
Should Netanyahu be convicted of the corruption charges against him in the trial currently being held in Jerusalem’s district court, he could appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court, where his government is likely to make appointments while in office.
The prime minister said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that he was ready to “hear counter offers” to the sweeping legal reform package his government is proposing, implying he is involved in how the reforms are formulated and promoted.
The Movement for Quality Government welcomed the attorney general’s warning to Netanyahu, saying the prime minister “should immediately withdraw his hands from the destruction of Israel’s legal and democratic system.”
Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Justice Minister Levin strongly criticized Baharav-Miara’s letter, accusing her of having a conflict of interest herself.
He noted that some of the proposed reforms will affect the position of the state’s attorney general and legal advisers more broadly.
“It seems that conflict of interest is a very strange thing. It is forbidden for an elected official to speak about legal advice reforms, but the attorney general and her staff may block reforms that directly affect their powers,” said Levin.
In January, Baharav-Miara filed an opinion with the Supreme Court stating that a conflict of interest agreement drafted for Netanyahu by her predecessor Avichai Mandelblit in 2020 was still in effect.
Under the arrangement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in matters affecting witnesses or other defendants in his trial, or legislation that could affect the legal proceedings against him.
Nor can he interfere in issues related to the status of several senior police and public prosecutor officials, in various fields under the responsibility of the Ministry of Communications, or in the Judicial Selection Committee.