Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked knew practically in real time about a meeting between Avichai Mandelblit, Nir Hefetz and journalist Dan Margalit, she the told Army Radio on Sunday.
The meeting is under question because Hefetz is at the center of a probe into whether former judge Hila Gerstl was offered the job of attorney- general in exchange for closing the criminal cases against the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.
At that time, in 2015, both Mandelblit and Gerstl were on the short list for the attorney-general job.
Questions have been raised about whether Hefetz might have acted similarly with Mandelblit, whether Mandelblit’s meeting with Margalit, then working for the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, was problematic and whether Mandelblit must recuse himself from dealing with this particular probe since he may be called as a witness.
Shaked said: “I knew practically in real time about the meeting with Mandelblit and Nir Hefetz at the house of Dan Margalit. There was nothing improper about this meeting. At that time, many journalists were raising reservations about Mandelblit’s candidacy for attorney-general because of his seeming closeness to Netanyahu.”
The justice minister added that despite the “attorney-general job affair,” there is no need for Mandelblit to clarify if he received a similar offer to the one Hefetz is accused of making Gerstl. “He is a straight and honest man. Judge Gerstl is a straight and honest woman. I trust both of them.”
Asked for clarification as to whether Shaked’s statement meant that she opposed the police questioning the attorney-general about the issue, Shaked’s spokesman said that she had taken no position on that question as it was a matter for police, and she was merely expressing her trust in Mandelblit that he had done nothing wrong.
Mandelblit’s office responded to reports about his meeting with Hefetz and Margalit, saying: “The attorney- general was not and is not an address for offers of bribery... regarding Nir Hefetz... Mandelblit expressed his disagreement with what was written about him by Dan Margalit in connection to the ‘Harpaz affair,’ and thought it was important to present an accurate account.
“For this purpose, Mandelblit agreed to an initiative which was raised to hold a meeting with Dan Margalit with regard to the ‘Harpaz affair.’ Nir Hefetz was the one who brought together Mandelblit and Margalit, but he did not participate in the August 2015 meeting.”
The statement also said that Mandelblit’s “superficial acquaintance” with Hefetz should have no impact on his supervising the cases in which Hefetz is involved.
Pressed further about whether he would oppose any police attempt to question him regarding his meeting with Hefetz and Margalit or about his relationship with Hefetz, sources close to Mandelblit vehemently questioned whether such an avenue would have any relevant connection to the cases in question.
At press time, the police had not responded to an inquiry about whether they will question Mandelblit.
Gertsl turned down Hefetz’s offer and Mandelblit eventually got the job of attorney-general, taking office in February 2016, and in September 2017 announced that he would likely indict Sara Netanyahu.
Reportedly, Hefetz made the offer to Gerstl after Mandelblit told the attorney- general selection committee that he would not hesitate to indict the Netanyahus if necessary. Until then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hefetz supported Mandelblit for the role, but the theory is that this answer caused Hefetz, and possibly the prime minister, to seek out a different candidate to support.
The other theory is that Hefetz acted on his own.
It was unclear if Shaked’s statement could lead to her being questioned regarding how she knew about the meeting.