High Court nixes vetting panel head, imperiling bid to appoint new IDF chief

The High Court of Justice struck a blow against the government on Thursday by overturning its decision to appoint former Supreme Court justice and attorney general Menachem “Meni” Mazuz as chairman of the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee.

The decision will likely stymie the appointment of Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi as new IDF chief of staff, which the government had sought to push through before the upcoming election, since candidates for the position must be vetted by the appointments committee and subsequently approved by the cabinet.

In response to a petition by the right-wing lobbying group Lavi, the High Court earlier this month demanded the government explain why Mazuz’s appointment could not be temporary, noting the legal restrictions on the appointment of senior officials for a full term by an interim government.

However, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara rejected the court’s proposal to turn Mazuz’s appointment into an ad hoc or temporary position, leading to Thursday’s decision to annul the appointment entirely.

In the court’s unanimous decision, Justice Noam Sohlberg acknowledged that the possibility does exist for an interim government to make permanent appointments.

But he added that the starting point for any such government was to refrain from such appointments, and that if it absolutely had to do so then such an appointment should be temporary, except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the then-commander of the IDF Southern Command, speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Since the appointment in question was evaluated in an erroneous manner, and deviated from the framework of laws regarding appointments in an election period, there is no alternative but to instruct that the government’s decision be annulled,” wrote Sohlberg.

The justice also pointed out that only the attorney general had reviewed the court’s recommendation to make Mazuz’s appointment temporary, and not the government, despite the latter being the only authorized body to make the decision.

Mazuz, a former attorney general and Supreme Court justice, was appointed chair of the committee for an eight-year period last month, a step that was bitterly opposed by right-wing parties in the opposition that objected to the veteran jurist on political grounds and decisions he made in relation to demonstrations against the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when he served as attorney general.

Mazuz has rejected the possibility he would agree to an appointment as an interim panel head.

The Senior Appointments Advisory Committee is responsible for vetting candidates for top positions such as heads of the IDF, Israel Police, Shin Bet and Mossad.

Baharav-Miara approved Mazuz’s appointment despite the country being in an election period due to what the government described as an urgent need to select a new army chief to attend to security challenges.