Netanyahu banned from top law enforcement appointments - High Court

The prime minister has already agreed not to directly appoint a new attorney general, state prosecutor or police commissioner, as well as judges to the Jerusalem District Court and Supreme Court.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on before the start of a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem's District Court February 8, 2021 (photo credit: REUVEN KASTRO/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on before the start of a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem's District Court February 8, 2021
(photo credit: REUVEN KASTRO/POOL)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has the authority to bind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a conflict-of-interest arrangement given his status as an indicted defendant, the  High Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
Netanyahu has been on trial for three public corruption affairs since last May. Witnesses will be called against him starting on April 5.
There has been concern that he might try to appoint law-enforcement officials or judges, or pass legislation impacting the legal establishment, to interfere with the course of his trial.
The three justices, led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, agreed with all but one of the restrictions Mandelblit had proposed be put on Netanyahu.
The court rejected an additional restriction requested by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which filed the petition.
Netanyahu had already agreed to Mandelblit barring him from direct involvement in the appointment of the next attorney-general, the next state attorney, the police inspector-general and future judges of the Jerusalem District Court, where he is on trial.
However, the prime minister had fought to have a direct role in High Court appointments and legislation impacting the legal establishment.
Hayut wrote the court’s decision on behalf of herself, Supreme Court Deputy President Hanan Melcer and Justice Neal Handel. The prime minister’s having remained in office while also on trial for serious offenses (bribery, fraud and breach of trust) is an exceptional situation, she wrote.
This situation prohibits Netanyahu from being in a position that raises even the slightest doubt of a conflict of interest, the court said.
One of the basic assumptions that led to the High Court green-lighting Netanyahu last May to form a government, despite his indictment, was his explicit commitment to accept a conflict-of-interest arrangement set for him by Mandelblit, it said.
Despite this promise, Netanyahu later said he had only agreed to negotiations with Mandelblit over the issue and not to summarily accept anything he dictated.
The High Court said it was only intervening and ruling after extensive discussions by Netanyahu and Mandelblit dating back to last May had failed to lead to an agreement by both sides.
It is within Mandelblit’s authority, as attorney-general, to make decisions for the executive branch about such issues, and his opinion is binding as long as the court has not explicitly ruled otherwise, Hayut wrote.
In addition, the justices said the subject of conflicts of interest in the executive branch is at the core of Mandelblit’s role as the top official responsible for upholding the rule of law.
Moreover, the “denial of the attorney-general’s authority in this context now is a contradiction of the prime minister’s previous commitments and statements before the court, and in the past, the prime minister even acted in conflicts-of-interest arrangements organized by the attorney-general in other matters,” the court said.
Further, the justices supported Mandelblit’s view that Netanyahu is barred from engaging in certain areas of activity within the Communications Ministry, as well as certain governmental legislative proceedings that could directly affect the criminal proceedings in his case.
They also barred him from direct involvement in High Court appointments, since those justices could end up hearing any future appeal he might file should he be convicted.
One area where the court moved toward Netanyahu was regarding witnesses involved in his trial.
The justices ruled that Netanyahu need only be removed from involvement in government decisions regarding such witnesses if he knows they will be impacted.
Mandelblit had sought a more absolute ban on this issue and to place a larger burden on Netanyahu to discover all potential conflicts that might arise regarding the trial’s hundreds of witnesses.