Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It is clear that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit blinked last week, finally giving in to pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by moving a pre-indictment hearing for bribery charges from July 10 to October 2 and 3.
What was less clear was why he delayed three months to those specific dates – the days immediately after Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe – as opposed to a longer or shorter delay.
It seems there are three possible answers.
The simplest is that this was the shortest significant delay he could give once he decided he was going to bend.
The courts and the legal system in general recess between mid-July and September 1, and very little of significance usually happens in Israel in September before the Jewish holidays.
There are two more complex possibilities that cut in opposite directions, and both relate to State Attorney Shai Nitzan, effectively Mandelblit’s No. 2 in the prosecution arena.
Nitzan, who will conclude his six-year term in December, is significant not only because he is the next most senior prosecution authority in the country, but also because he was a critical and consistent die-hard defender of Mandelblit’s handling of the Netanyahu cases.
When the Left attacked saying that the attorney-general was moving too slowly, Nitzan defended him loudly. When the Right attacked that Mandelblit should not make any anti-Netanyahu announcements during elections and that the charges were politicized, Nitzan defended him just as loudly.
However, when Mandelblit announced his likely decisions regarding the prime minister on February 28, Nitzan finally parted ways.
Mandelblit said he will at most indict Netanyahu for bribery in one case and lesser charges for the other two cases, whereas Nitzan supported the state prosecution team recommendation to indict for bribery in all three cases.
This was a significant break and difference of opinion, and it was made public.
So scenario two says Mandelblit was more than happy to delay the pre-indictment hearings until October, so that he can wait to make his final decisions relating to Netanyahu after Nitzan is out of the picture.
In this scenario, Mandelblit is hoping to reduce the charges against Netanyahu even more than where they currently stand, hoping that the next state attorney will be more pliable on the issue.
Supporting this theory is the idea that Mandelblit could have given a delay of only one or two months, and did not need to give three months – especially when July 10 already gave Netanyahu’s lawyers four months after they have been grappling with the cases for years.
The courts may recess in mid-July, and government lawyers may like to take off, but the attorney-general does not formally recess, and there is no court involved in his hearings. So he could easily have held the hearings during the recess or in September before Rosh Hashanah.
Or maybe Mandelblit is sending the opposite signal.
He could have waited until October 22, when all the Jewish holidays are concluded. Instead, he opted to schedule the hearings for right after Rosh Hashanah, three weeks before the rest of the month’s holidays conclude.
He also said that due to the delay in starting the hearings, he would not let them draw out for months but would demand they conclude by mid-October.
This sounds like he wanted to issue his final decision against Netanyahu, without cutting him additional slack, while Nitzan is still in office.
The benefit would be that Nitzan can both defend him and make him look more lenient in comparison for “only” seeking bribery charges against the prime minister in one of three cases.
Most indications are that this is the scenario that Mandelblit was going for.
Then again, Mandelblit said he would never postpone the hearings past July 10.
When the hearings take place does help determine when the final decision occurs, which could determine how long the incoming coalition government may be able to serve should a final indictment against Netanyahu force him to resign.