U.S. President Donald Trump (R) embraces Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
As the probes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those against US President Donald Trump reach a decisive point, including a debate about whether Trump will be questioned, questions of bias and conflicts of interest have also returned.
The same is true with potential attempts to disqualify one of Netanyahu’s new lawyers, former district court judge Oded Mudrick.
One fundamental difference between the probes against Netanyahu and Trump is that Netanyahu appointed the man who will decide his fate, and Trump did not.
Not that US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is an easy target for Trump to attack as biased given that Mueller is a lifelong Republican and was picked by a US Justice Department run by his selection for attorney-general.
But factually speaking, once Jeff Sessions recused himself, and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Mueller, Trump could, strong counter-arguments aside, at least try to argue bias without going after someone he directly appointed.
There are important legal distinctions between prosecuting a sitting US president and a sitting Israeli prime minister.
But Netanyahu could have publicly attacked Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit for approving the police to question him over a dozen times, and he never did.
In contrast, on Sunday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that if Mueller tried to question Trump it would be, “Over my dead body.”
Giuliani argued that the Mueller probe has been biased, departed from its limited mandate and used tricky questions to entrap former Trump aides into perjuring themselves, and then used that as leverage to flip them against Trump.
In Giuliani’s narrative, even if Trump might have suggested at earlier stages that he would waive any legal defenses he has to being questioned while in office, the pattern of tricky questioning is too risky and biased.
Like Trump has tried to frame Mueller as being on “a witch hunt,” Netanyahu has attacked the Israeli police for bias.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have even alleged that some Israeli police officials have a conflict of interest.
In a complex array of allegations and counter-allegations, his old legal team said months ago that a case between a female police officer against the former head of Lahav 433, which is probing Netanyahu, might have led to the Lahav 433 commander acting in a biased way against the prime minister.
In recent days, this accusation of bias has boomeranged against Mudrick of the new legal team.
Mudrick is not only on the prime minister’s new legal team, but is also on the disciplinary panel judging the case between the female officer and the former Lahav 433 commander.
Some police officials testifying before Mudrick in the police sexual harassment case will face him as an opposing attorney in Netanyahu’s cases.
So there may be calls for Mudrick to resign either from Netanyahu’s legal team or from the disciplinary panel.
But Netanyahu has never attacked Mandelblit, and he essentially cannot.
Mandelblit was his cabinet secretary before Netanyahu appointed him as attorney-general.
In fact, there was a High Court of Justice petition filed in 2015 to disqualify Mandelblit from becoming attorney-general because of his having worked for Netanyahu and concerns about whether he might be biased in favor of the prime minister in an investigation.
The High Court signed off on Mandelblit’s appointment, but concerns have persisted about whether he will help Netanyahu in some way out of a sense of loyalty or owing him.
Many also criticized Mandelblit for permitting Netanyahu to remain as communications minister despite concerns of a conflict of interest about his connection to Bezeq-Walla! owner Shaul Elovitch, during a time period in which the prime minister allegedly committed some of the key crimes in Case 4000.
Those very concerns are what make Mandelblit untouchable in terms of Netanyahu accusing him of anti-bias as Trump has accused Mueller.
Trump may yet be questioned by Mueller, but he will not go quietly, and he will slam any Mueller legal conclusions against him as biased.
In contrast, if Mandelblit decides to file an indictment against Netanyahu as expected, the prime minister will have no easy target at which to express frustration.
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