Analysis: If AG indicts Sara Netanyahu, will he cut Bibi some slack?

In January, 'The Jerusalem Post' learned that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would indict the prime minister only if the evidence were rock-solid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sara Netanyahu at the archeological site Hippos in northern Israel, August 15, 2017. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sara Netanyahu at the archeological site Hippos in northern Israel, August 15, 2017.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
If Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides to indict Sara Netanyahu in the coming weeks, as is expected, it is likely that this would alter the balance in deciding whether to indict her husband – giving Mandelblit far more leeway to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a pass.
Until now, there has been debate within both the police and the prosecution whether any of the corruption charges against the prime minister were enough to indict.
Part of the debate has been whether Mandelblit would be willing to indict his former boss – the attorney general served as cabinet secretary in a Netanyahu government – and whether he was giving both husband and wife favorable treatment.
In January, The Jerusalem Post learned that Mandelblit would indict the prime minister only if the evidence were rock-solid. The rationale was that an indictment based on questionable evidence could force Netanyahu to resign, in turn causing the government to fall, yet end in an embarrassing acquittal, as happened with Yisrael Beytenu head and current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in November 2013.
Such acquittals not only stain the record of the attorney general who orders the indictment, they can also hurt the prosecution’s standing in future corruption cases.
For quite a while, it appeared that Mandelblit was unimpressed with the evidence against Netanyahu.
(In contrast, the police have long seemed to be leaning toward an indictment, certainly since they brought on Ari Harow, a former chief of staff for Netanyahu, as a state’s witness.) But on May 4, the head of the prosecution’s team, Liat Ben-Ari – known for putting former prime minister Ehud Olmert behind bars – publicly repudiated the idea that public servants could receive hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts without breaking any laws.
This potentially showed support within the prosecution for indicting Netanyahu. Yet within days, State Attorney Shai Nitzan qualified Ben-Ari’s statement as theoretical, signaling that he was not rushing toward indictment.
Nitzan will be a key figure in the decision, being a bridge between Mandelblit and the rest of the prosecution.
The Post also learned recently that whereas much of the media viewed the Harow state witness deal as the final nail in the coffin for the prime minister, Mandelblit likely viewed it as strengthening a case from likely to go nowhere to borderline.
The crux is whether Harow can really present evidence that shows that Netanyahu had criminal intent or whether he merely provides more color and detail to a circumstantial case which will still leave doubt as to Netanyahu’s intent.
For example, many pieces of evidence regarding Netanyahu’s alleged media bribery scheme, to get better coverage from Yediot Aharonot in exchange for weakening competition from Israel Hayom, are contradictory.
When there is contradictory evidence it is harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Netanyahu was serious about the scheme versus playing various aggressive and risky political games.
If Mandelblit ultimately did not indict either Sara or the prime minister, the fact that there were police and prosecutors in favor of indicting and that Netanyahu was the attorney general’s former boss, could have made a strong case that he was giving the Netanyahus favorable treatment.
But if Mandelblit indicts Sara, everything changes.
Indicting the prime minister’s wife is not the same as indicting the prime minister, but it would officially make him forever banished from the Netanyahu family and even a public enemy.
It would be hard for police and prosecutors who have used media leaks to attack Mandelblit’s credibility to continue to label him a Netanyahu wing-man with the legal and political peril that Mandelblit would be foisting on the prime minister by indicting the latter’s wife.
This means Mandelblit will have more leeway for going whichever direction he likes for the prime minister.
Returning to Liberman, many analysts thought that former attorney general Yehuda Weinstein cut an unofficial deal with State Attorney Moshe Lador that he would indict Liberman for the small Belarus Ambassador Affair if Lador supported him in closing the large money-laundering affair.
The same could happen with the Netanyahus.
The price of the prime minister getting off the hook and maintaining Mandelblit’s credibility could be a pound of flesh from Sara.