Menachem Mazuz, 48, Israel’s bookish attorney general, isn’t what you’d call a familiar face. Low-key, bespectacled and unassuming, his career as a top deputy at the Justice Ministry focused primarily on constitutional-law issues, not headline-grabbing criminal cases. When he was appointed Israel’s 11th attorney general in January, even veteran lawyers barely knew his name. Now he’s about to make the most important criminal-prosecution decision in recent Israeli history: whether to indict Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on corruption charges that could force him to resign.

Faced with the most politically explosive decision of his career, Mazuz is expected to be even more cautious and methodical than is his habit, colleagues said.

“He’s not the sort of bubbly personality that his predecessor was,” said Alan Baker, legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who worked with Mazuz on negotiations with Jordan and the Palestinians. “He doesn’t tell jokes every three minutes. He doesn’t do four things at once. He is a solid lawyer, very thorough, who considers all aspects before making any judgment or coming to conclusions.”

His first allegiance, Baker said, is “loyalty to the law.”

Born on the island of Djerba in southern Tunisia, Mazuz was an infant when his family emigrated to Israel in 1956. He grew up with eight brothers and sisters in Netivot, an impoverished, windblown town in the Negev Desert, where his father ran a bookstore. He completed high school in Jerusalem, served as a soldier in the armored corps and graduated with honors from Hebrew University Law School.

His brother, Baruch Mazuz, 59, said in an interview that the boy everyone knew as “Meni” was “always reading books when friends were playing outside. …

“I bought him an encyclopedia. He read book after book until he finished it.”

Erudition and a strong work ethic brought Mazuz to the attention of Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, who nominated him to succeed the retiring Eliyakim Rubinstein, whom Mazuz had served as a top deputy for more than a decade.

Mazuz won unanimous confirmation from the Cabinet with the exceptions of Sharon and Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, who abstained because they faced criminal investigations.

Senior state prosecutor Edna Arbel, who works for Mazuz, has urged him

to indict Sharon. Her decision, along with the details of her staff’s 50-page investigative report and a draft indictment delivered Monday to Mazuz, were widely leaked to Israeli news media in what some analysts saw as an effort to force Mazuz’s hand.

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