Rivlin and Mandelblit as the upholders of ‘mamlachtiyut’ and the rule of law

The rule of law. This is an issue that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit addressed in a speech to the State Prosecution in the Northern District in Upper Nazareth last Monday.

May 5, 2019 21:44
Rivlin and Mandelblit as the upholders of ‘mamlachtiyut’ and the rule of law

Netanyahu and Rivlin. (photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)

In the years that I worked in the Knesset, I had several unpleasant personal confrontations with Reuven Rivlin when he served as speaker of the Knesset (2003-06, 2009-13). Yet I always respected his mamlachtiyut – “stately decorum,” in the sense of inclusion as opposed to particularism in viewing state and national affairs – in the way he approached his task of running the Knesset. This manifested itself particularly in his treatment of the opposition in general and the Arab parliamentary groups in particular.

This trait has manifested itself to an even greater extent since he was elected as Israel’s 10th president in 2014, to the great chagrin of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Throughout the term of the 20th Knesset, which saw a major erosion in the approach of the prime minister and some of his ministers to mamlachtiyut, Rivlin insisted on acting as the president of all of Israel’s citizens, and treating their different approaches and views with respect and compassion, without for a moment giving up his own right-wing political views.

At the opening session of the 21st Knesset, which is expected to demonstrate a further erosion of mamlachtiyut by Netanyahu – as he enters a new phase in his struggle against indictment before he ends his term as prime minister, and for perpetuating his political career (neither of which can be justified within the framework of mamlachtiyut) – Rivlin spoke in its favor without actually mentioning the word.

“To my colleagues in the future coalition, I should like to say: One must lose with dignity, but one must also win with dignity. You are not in opposition: you are holding the reins of power. As such, it is your responsibility to free yourselves of the urge to liquidate your rivals, of feelings of victimhood – and rule with respect and love for all types of citizens and communities that live here.

“You must view the significant political achievement that you have attained and internalize its meanings: not only the political-sectorial achievements, but those relating to Israeli society overall. We should not wish for so large a portion of the people of Israel and of Israeli society to feel – and, heaven forbid, to fear – that it has not only lost in the political struggle, but that it has lost its place here... Responsibility for this rests to a large extent with you, as those who sit at the helm of the state.”

Though Netanyahu stated right after his electoral victory that he will be “everyone’s prime minister,” he cannot fulfill this promise unless he pays heed to what Rivlin said last Tuesday. Unfortunately, since he detests Rivlin (primarily because the latter is critical of him), and is completely immersed in his own particular “story,” the chances of this happening are virtually zero.


AND NOW to the issue of the rule of law. This is an issue that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit addressed in a speech to the State Prosecution in the Northern District in Upper Nazareth last Monday.

Mandelblit quoted a ruling of the High Court of Justice from 1993, in the case of Shas deputy minister Raphael Pinchasi – whose lawyers had argued that, since he was reelected in the elections to the 13th Knesset after the charges against him were already known to the public, he should be allowed to serve as deputy minister irrespective of the charges.

In his ruling, Justice Aharon Barak wrote: “the decision of the voter does not come in place of the decision of the law, and cannot replace it.” What Mandelblit was referring to was the argument of Netanyahu supporters that since he received the support of the majority of the voters, who were aware of the charges against him, he should be allowed to continue to serve as prime minister without trial.

Mandelblit also referred to the accusation directed against himself by Netanyahu and his supporters, to the effect that he had given in to the attacks by the police, the Left and the media against the prime minister, and that the investigations were all biased. “My decision, two months ago, was to consider bringing charges against the prime minister on offenses of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as a result of the findings in the three cases in which he was a suspect that were investigated.

“When the law and the evidence indicated that there is no reason to investigate the prime minister as a suspect, he was not investigated – and when, in the cases in which the prime minister was investigated as a suspect, it was found that the evidence points to a reasonable probability for a conviction under the provisions of the law, I decided to consider submitting an indictment, subject to a hearing. Things are very simple and clear, and the decisions are professional and practical.”

More generally, Mandelblit spoke of continuous attacks on the legal system and the law enforcement authorities that had accompanied the elections campaign as a result of Netanyahu’s legal predicament. He explained that weakening the authority of the legal system poses a danger that goes beyond the prime minister’s future. “[It] is the weakening of the protection of every single citizen of the state, with emphasis on the weak populations. This means the weakening of the ability to prevent the abuse of the governing power...”

The previous day, Mandelblit decided to cut short attempts by Netanyahu and his lawyers to use every trick in the book to put off his pre-indictment hearing, by stating categorically that the hearing would be held at the latest on July 10.

There is no doubt that Mandelblit demonstrated a lot of patience toward Netanyahu (some would say too much patience) during the first two years of the investigations. But he is starting to lose patience, and apparently feels that Netanyahu has gone too far in his efforts to buy time – at this stage of the game, apparently for the sake of passing retroactive legislation that will prevent his being put on trial for years to come.

I believe that, like Rivlin, Mandelblit voted in the recent elections for one of the parties that will join the new government. However, both figures belong to the right-religious coalition’s group of supporters that does not believe that the end justifies the means; that the Supreme Court ought to be weakened (though back in 2003, Rivlin spoke out against Barak’s “constitutional revolution”); that anything that smacks of liberalism ought to be rejected; that democracy is expendable; and that Netanyahu stands above criticism and the law.

Rivlin has another two years before he ends his term as president, and Mandelblit has another three years as attorney-general. The $64,000 question is whether it will be their spirit that wins, or whether Netanyahu will survive them both, go scot-free, and continue in his ruinous attacks on mamlachtiyut, the rule of law, and the liberal democratic system in general.

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