AG backs police in face of PM attacks

Hershkovitz backs vetting c’tee; Shaked, Zilber face off.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit backed the police on Monday, the day after its recommendations to indict the prime minister led to Benjamin Netanyahu attacking them as illegitimate.
Speaking at the Knesset State Control Committee, Mandelblit walked a fine line between backing the police against criticism to try to delegitimize it in general, while trying to remain neutral about whether he would accept the police recommendations against Netanyahu.
Aside from saying: “I give full backing to the police” and that “I am not chasing after anyone” in reference to Netanyahu, the attorney-general got more explicit about his views regarding whether the prime minister would need to resign if indicted.
“Regarding regular ministers, there is clear case law from the High Court of Justice that after an indictment is filed, the minister must resign,” Mandelblit said. “Regarding the prime minister, it is not a simple legal question, if it comes to that. Petitions which will [likely] be filed on that issue will certainly clarify it.”
Answering questions about how soon he will decide the prime minister’s fate, Mandelblit said that “everyone is racing forward – and it is important for me to make a speedy decision.”
At the same time, he said, “I am not holding a stopwatch,” and that it would take time for him to go through the police recommendations along with multiple levels of state prosecutors.
Mandelblit rejected allegations that a new staff of prosecutors he assembled was brought together both in order to justify eliminating the charges against Netanyahu that the main prosecution team on the case is expected to endorse, and to justify a delay in deciding the cases.
Despite his neutrality and passing the issue to the High Court, if Mandelblit files an indictment for bribery against Netanyahu as expected in Case 4000 (the “Bezeq-Walla Affair”), he will not defend Netanyahu against a petition to compel his resignation.
In contrast, Mandelblit might be of the view that an indictment for mere breach of trust should not lead to a prime minister resigning, but that is no longer the likely scenario to expect for Netanyahu.
Speaking at the same committee hearing, Civil Service Commission chairman Daniel Hershkowitz – who is also a member of the vetting committee for top state employee appointments – rejected some coalition politician calls to eliminate or disempower the committee, following its rejection of the coalition’s preferred candidate to become the new police chief.
Ironically, Hershkowitz was one of the two members of the committee who voted in favor of confirming top police official Moshe Edri as the next police chief, but on Monday his focus was defending the committee’s authority and role in Edri’s selection.
He said that vetting committee chief Eliezer Goldberg “was attacked as being against the government. I was attacked as being for the government and that I had been a politician, and therefore, suspect. There is no legitimacy” to any of these criticisms.
“The committee has an important role and I see no place for eliminating it,” he added.
Mandelblit defended the committee’s authority in general, but if the coalition confirms Edri against the committee’s vote and a petition is filed, he appears to want to stick to a middle-of-the-road position and allow the High Court to decide the issue.
Meanwhile, there was legal drama at the Knesset Economy Committee, with both Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber ostensibly appearing to represent the government’s position in the debate over reforms to the state’s dairy sector.
The reforms relate to a variety of issues, including attempts to create additional competition in aspects of the industry.
However, Zilber said she recognized that there were a variety of legal objections to how the current set of reforms were structured, stating that her staff was still reviewing the diverse issues.
The deputy attorney-general said she had appeared before the committee at Mandelblit’s directive, which the attorney-general confirmed.
Despite Zilber’s appearance, Shaked also appeared and once again attacked her as being inappropriate for representing the government’s positions at the Knesset.
Shaked has made a personal vendetta against Zilber since the deputy attorney-general went off against a government bill to base aspects of government financing for cultural activities on avoiding certain topics which are viewed as undermining the state’s Jewishness.
Mandelblit sent Zilber to the Knesset meeting over Shaked’s objection, although he concurred with the justice minister that Zilber had crossed certain lines in her comments against the government’s cultural loyalty bill.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein took Shaked’s side in the debate, sending a letter to all committee chairpersons to “remind them of the obvious thing they apparently forgot,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The Knesset requires accountability from the ministers and not from the bureaucrats,” Edelstein said. “We cannot accept a reality in which one government ministry gives two different opinions. In the committee room, there is space only for the policies outlined by the government ministers.”
Earlier, Knesset State Control Committee chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) backed Zilber and criticized Shaked for undermining the country’s gatekeepers of the rule of law.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.