Justice minister alleges ‘no basic working relationship between government and attorney general’; watchdog accuses Levin of trying to pave the way to firing Baharav-Miara

Justice Minister Yariv Levin addresses the Knesset plenum ahead of the final readings of the “reasonableness” bill, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin lambasted Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Wednesday for what he said was her failure to represent him in petitions against his decision not to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, and more broadly over her stance against the government in other legal proceedings against it.

In an angry letter to the government’s chief legal adviser, Levin accused Baharav-Miara of routinely siding against the government’s positions, failing to consult with cabinet ministers regarding legal proceedings against their policies, and creating a situation in which there is no basic working relationship between the government and the attorney general.

Baharav-Miara has clashed on numerous occasions with the government. She has refused to support several pieces of government-backed legislation — including its judicial overhaul bills — and has said she cannot represent the government in the High Court of Justice in petitions against the reasonableness law, the prime minister recusal law, and the actions of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, among others.

In a cabinet meeting in July, Baharav-Miara was assailed by several ministers over her actions and faced calls by some of them for her to resign or be fired.

Baharav-Miara and the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately publicly respond to Levin’s letter.

Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid condemned Levin for his letter, describing it as “a crass and violent” assault on the attorney general.

Lapid said Levin had “once again decided to aggressively and crassly attack” the attorney general, and proved that the government “has become the enemy of democracy and endangers the separation of powers.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

And National Unity party leader MK Benny Gantz also backed the attorney general, accusing Levin of seeking to fire her, and arguing she was right to oppose the justice minister’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee amid the need to fill empty seats on court benches.

“Levin’s statement lays the groundwork for the government to fire the attorney general,” Gantz said. “The attorney general, who serves the public and the rule of law and doesn’t just represent the government, is doing well.”

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel watchdog accused Levin of seeking to pave the way to fire Baharav-Miara, as numerous cabinet ministers have urged since the government took office.

The organization said Levin’s letter demonstrated that he has decided “to finally crush the legal system and law enforcement,” and accused him of “working to remove the attorney general from office.”

Said the organization: “The attorney general is a gatekeeper entrusted with preserving the rule of law in the country. The attempts to remove her and the fight against her are part of the government’s struggle against the rule of law itself and the basis of democracy in the country.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin (R) at the Knesset on June 7, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Kaplan Force, one of the major protest groups against the government’s judicial overhaul program also denounced Levin’s missive, threatening that there would be “scenes never before witnessed in the history of the State of Israel” if the government tries to fire the attorney general.

Levin’s broadside against the attorney general on Wednesday came in response to her office’s formulation of the state response to petitions filed by the Movement for Quality Government and others against Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, which is needed to fill several dozen open spots on court benches around the country.

A hearing has been set for the petition in the High Court on September 7.

In his letter on Wednesday, Levin accused Baharav-Miara of failing to contact his office in order to draw up the state’s response to the petitions, and of insufficiently presenting his stance after his office contacted her over the matter.

He noted that the attorney general had told him that although she will formally represent him in court in response to the petitions, she disagrees with his position that he has the authority not to convene the committee and will include that point of view in the state’s response, along with Levin’s.

“Anyone who reads the response from you would think that it is the petitions against me, and not the response by me,” fumed Levin.

Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a cabinet meeting, held at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Levin asserted that such a situation was unparalleled even among undemocratic countries, asking rhetorically, “Is this not comparable to a game of football in which only one side is playing and is kicking towards an open goal?”

Continued the justice minister, “Even with the unacceptable and unprecedented standards with which government legal advice is managed under your leadership, this is another record for disparaging treatment and the trampling of my basic right as a litigant to receive fair representation in court in petitions against me.”

He said he had effectively been left without representation in court, which constituted a “severe blow” to his rights as a minister and to the rights of the government “and the public in whose name I work.”

He alleged that on several occasions she has failed to consult with the relevant ministers on the issue at hand, and has also “not made even the most minimal effort to assist the government and its ministers in advancing their policies.”

Levin also denounced her for failing to support several government requests to push back the deadline for filing responses to petitions against the government, and the hearings themselves.

“In the situation you have created there is not even a minimal, basic working relationship between the government and its ministers and the person who is supposed to provide them with legal advice,” concluded the justice minister.

As reported by The Times of Israel