Ex-justice to temporarily lead vetting panel, clearing way to approve new IDF chief

Former Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein on Friday agreed to serve as temporary head of a vetting committee for high-level appointments, allowing the government to move forward with approving a new military chief after Israel’s top court blocked it from appointing a permanent chair of the panel.

Rubinstein, a longtime civil servant who has held several senior legal positions, said he informed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara of his decision and likened the temporary posting to performing reserve duty in the military.

The Prime Minister’s Office said ministers would convene to deliberate Rubinstein’s appointment, but did not specify when.

The announcement came a day after the High Court of Justice struck down the appointment of another former Supreme Court justice — Menachem “Meni” Mazuz — as the new permanent head of the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee, dealing a blow to the government’s efforts to approve Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi as new IDF chief of staff.

Candidates for the military post, along with nominees to similar senior positions, must be vetted by the panel before the government can approve the appointment.

The High Court’s ruling noted the legal restrictions on an interim government to make permanent appointments of senior officials unless it is in extraordinary circumstances. The decision was handed down after Baharav-Miara rebuffed the court’s proposal to make Mazuz’s posting temporary, leading the justices to annul the appointment altogether.

Then-Supreme Court justice Menachem ‘Meni’ Mazuz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 10, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mazuz said after the ruling that he would forgo serving on an ad-hoc basis, having rejected the possibility of agreeing to an interim appointment as panel head. He also said he disagreed with the court’s decision while stressing that he would respect it.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who tapped Halevi to serve as the next IDF chief, hailed Rubinstein for agreeing to temporarily lead the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee.

“This is a mission with security and national importance and I am sure that the honorable Judge Rubinstein will properly lead the process,” Gantz tweeted.

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)

Mazuz, who like Rubinstein is both a former justice and attorney general, 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.

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.