Miki Zohar investigated for alleged extortion of A-G Mandelblit

Zohar suggested in response that the investigation has to do with him being a right-wing politician.

Likud parliament member Miki Zohar reacts during an arrangements committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
Likud parliament member Miki Zohar reacts during an arrangements committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
Coalition chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) was interrogated on Thursday by the police corruption squad Lahav 433 for his alleged extortion and threats against Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
The Justice Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that deputy state attorney for special affairs Nurit Litman approved the interrogation since Mandelblit must recuse himself from the case.
The police investigation is “being conducted with the approval and accompaniment of the State Attorney’s Office,” the police spokesperson said.
Zohar, shortly after the announcement, shared on Facebook that it is a “sad day for our democracy.”
“I will not hide the fact that I was surprised, since this is an investigation to silence me that is based on me sharing my opinion in an interview on the radio,” Zohar wrote.
Late Thursday night, he told Channel 13 in an interview that he had not made any threats about what would happen to Mandelblit if he did not quit and drop the cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rather, “I projected, felt and hoped that” more recordings about alleged improprieties by Mandelblit would come out, noting that he himself “had nothing else” concrete to use against the attorney-general.
Reflecting on his interrogation by police, he said he was, “very surprised… insisted the questioning be recorded… but the interrogators were very professional.”
Most commentators think the case will be closed, but was brought to protect prosecutors from feeling intimidated by politicians who crossed the line from criticism to specific threats.
IN MID-OCTOBER, Zohar threatened to release a series of audio recordings of Mandelblit’s private conversations, telling 103FM, “Everything has already been clarified, and I tell you that it’s just a small part. If Mandelblit does not resign and dismiss the indictments, we will reveal more.”
Asked if he was threatening Mandelblit, he said “it is not a threat, it’s a promise.”
Thursday night Zohar said this “promise” was just based on already publicly available exposes and nothing concrete.
Back in mid-October, after Netanyahu distanced himself from the remarks of his loyalist, Zohar backed off.
“I didn’t intend to threaten the attorney-general, but I still think he should quit,” he told the Post.
This last statement was viewed as a failure to retract the threat and may have led to the questioning.
Earlier in October, Channel 12 reported that Mandelblit complained that then-state attorney Shai Nitzan “has his hands around my throat” in private telephone calls between 2015 and 2016.
Obtained by Channel 12, Mandelblit’s cell phone recordings to then-Israel Bar Association president Efi Nave – about Nitzan’s decision not to declare the basis for closing an earlier case against the attorney-general – related to what was known as the “Harpaz Affair.”
Although Mandelblit was only a minor protagonist in the affair – which was centered around a 2010 rivalry between then-defense minister Ehud Barak and then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi – the attorney-general, who then served as the military advocate-general, was suspected of withholding information from police for 24 hours.
“The cancellation of the indictments, the publication of a public apology by the two and the resignation of Mandelblit will not correct the terrible and unnecessary injustice done to Netanyahu and the Likud,” Zohar tweeted on Tuesday.
NETANYAHU EXPRESSED disapproval of Zohar’s statements, saying “MK Miki Zohar’s remarks were made without the prime minister’s knowledge and were not made with his advice. The prime minister did not discuss the matter with MK Zohar, and he disapproves of what was said.”
Blue and White demanded that Zohar resign, saying that he was pushing the country toward elections.
“Miki Zohar should terminate his position as chairman of the coalition. He undermines the stability of the government every day, and every day he’s in office brings us downhill to elections,” said the party in a statement. “Israel deserves more.”
Mandelblit’s office responded at the time that he was unfazed by Zohar.
“The claim that he was blackmailed or influenced in his decisions… by… extraneous considerations is unfounded and ridiculous… These decisions [were] made after a professional and orderly procedure with the participation of many parties,” added the statement.
The office stressed that there is “no affinity or connection between what was said angrily in a closed conversation between friends years ago,” and the Netanyahu case.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel called on the police commissioner to investigate Zohar for extortion.
“This is not the conduct of elected officials… It is the conduct of a gang drunk with power and an agenda that does everything in its power to protect a prime minister accused of three serious indictments,” said the movement.
Likewise, the Crime Minister Movement, which also referred the issue to the police, said Zohar’s threats against Mandelblit were “an unprecedented incident.”
RESPONDING TO Zohar’s interrogation, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said that he “cannot accept a situation in which a Knesset member is investigated due to a statement made in the context of his position in public office.
“Today, a new term called a ‘silencing investigation’ has been established to deter public figures from freely expressing their views,” he continued. “I expect all heads of the factions in the Knesset to unite in demanding that the investigation be stopped.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana came to Zohar’s defense, slamming law enforcement. He echoed Levin that public servants could not be interrogated for their statements as public figures.
Ohana referred to Zohar’s radio appearance as simply an incident in which he unsuccessfully misspoke and clarified afterwards. The public security minister called the interrogation “simply embarrassing.”
Yamina faction chair and former justice minister MK Ayelet Shaked said that “the interrogation of MK Miki Zohar because of an unfortunate statement he apologized for is a disgrace to the law enforcement system in a democratic state.
“The law enforcement system would do well to come back and admit it was wrong,” she concluded.
There was no comment on Thursday from Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn or other members of Blue and White.
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif slammed Zohar, saying, “Freedom of speech is a holy value. Explicit threats are not part of this,” and said Zohar threatened Mandelblit at Netanyahu’s bidding.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.