Mandelblit says stance on Netanyahu not having to quit ‘not changed’

Likud, Blue and White renew battle over rule of law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit denied a report in Haaretz on Wednesday that he changed his opinion on the option of the prime minister having to suspend himself due to his indictment and his upcoming trial.
Last week, Mandelblit told the Israel Bar Association conference in Herzliya that Netanyahu may be able to remain in office even when his corruption trial starts in January, as long as he refrains from interfering with law enforcement appointments and actions. But according to the report, sabotaging the work of the police and prosecution could also be a reason to force him to resign.
“The legal stance of the attorney-general on the issue of [the prime minister] suspending himself has not changed since the speech to the Bar Association and what was submitted to the High Court,” Mandelblit’s office said. “We will not address internal deliberations.”
Haaretz reported Wednesday evening that Mandelblit changed his mind, and that he sees his attacks on the law enforcement system as an abuse of power.
But Channel 13 reported that despite the denials, there are “informal conversations” about whether Netanyahu’s behavior could require reassessing the issue in the future. The leak to Haaretz was seen as a warning to Netanyahu to tone down his attacks on the legal establishment that escalated.
Netanyahu attacked the police and prosecution at a Likud faction meeting on Wednesday for their role in an alleged cover up of wrongdoing by police in Case 2000, demanding an independent inquiry.
“It is clear that there are political decisions made by the police and prosecution against justice and the law in order to topple a prime minister from the Right,” he said. “Could the attorney-general not have known? Could he not have authorized it? It is safe to say he won’t investigate it.”
While Netanyahu did not directly address the Haaretz report, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi warned that if Mandelblit tried to make Netanyahu quit, there would be massive right-wing protests that would dwarf the current anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, and the prosecution would have to be “dismantled and reconfigured.” Karhi said he was willing to drive the D-9 that would destroy the Justice Ministry.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana also took Netanyahu’s side in the closed-door meeting, calling senior figures in the prosecution “mafiosos.”
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz defended the legal establishment at Blue and White’s faction meeting.
“Be strong, do not fear or worry,” Gantz said in a message to the police, prosecution and judges. “You do your part in defending the rule of law and democracy. We will do our part and defend you. Fierce attacks by the government on the law enforcement system endanger Israeli democracy. It is not legitimate criticism and it is intended to cause harm.”
Likud and Blue and White reignited their fight over legal issues earlier Wednesday in the Knesset plenum.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin sparred over allegations that the police and prosecution purposely covered up alleged internal wrongdoing by police involved in investigating Netanyahu’s cases.
Nissenkorn protested Levin’s support for a commission of inquiry to investigate the prosecution. He said there was no chance of such a proposal passing because Blue and White would block it.
“Forming a commission of inquiry to probe the prosecution would be burning bridges,” Nissenkorn said. “You need to decide whether you are our partners or in a continuing conflict. Maintaining the rule of law is the heart of what Blue and White believes in.”
Levin responded: “Partnership goes both ways. Defending prosecutors who commit crimes is the opposite of maintaining the rule of law. You should be the first one asking for such a probe.”
Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich announced on Wednesday morning that next Wednesday he would bring his proposal to probe conflicts of interest among the attorney-general, prosecutors and Supreme Court judges to a vote in the plenum. When Likud MKs broke coalition discipline and supported a similar bill by Smotrich two months ago, it started a major fight between Likud and Blue and White.
Levin told The Jerusalem Post that he would encourage the Likud to support the proposal.