Lead prosecutor in Netanyahu cases not running for state attorney post

Sources close to Ben Ari said she was fully satisfied with her decision.

Liat Ben Ari and MK Swid in investigation seat. (photo credit: OFER AMRAM)
Liat Ben Ari and MK Swid in investigation seat.
(photo credit: OFER AMRAM)
Deputy State Attorney for Economic Affairs Liat Ben-Ari, one of the favorites to become the next state attorney, on Sunday said she will not seek the job. Sunday was the deadline to present candidacies.
Ben-Ari, who sent former prime minister Ehud Olmert to jail and indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was regarded by many as having an unmatched record.
However, she and her family have suffered unprecedented public attacks and encroachment on their private lives since she came into the crosshairs of Netanyahu supporters.
“I am sure that the appointment process will lead to choosing the right candidate for state attorney among those competing,” Ben-Ari said in a statement. “I am sure that the candidate who is chosen will be able to handle the many challenges facing the state prosecution.”
Sources close to Ben-Ari said she was fully satisfied with her decision, as she might have had to leave the Netanyahu prosecution team had she taken the post and wants to see it through to its conclusion.
Besides the public attacks Ben-Ari has faced, there were two candidates who Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit likely preferred over her, including Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Affairs Shlomo Lemberger and Haifa District Attorney Amit Easman.
Lemberger was effectively No. 2 in the state prosecution until Shai Nitzan stepped down as state attorney in December 2019 and, alongside Mandelblit, has managed much of the prosecution since then.
The twist in all of this is that many candidates favored by Mandelblit may be blocked by the Likud. Technically, Netanyahu has committed to keeping away from the issue, and the government usually gives its blessing to whoever a five-member apolitical committee selects.
However, the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White effectively gave the Likud equal veto power with Blue and White over major appointments. This means Netanyahu’s lieutenants or the cabinet can prevent the appointment of any state attorney they may view as too aggressive in confronting allegations against public servants or too close to Netanyahu.
Some Netanyahu supporters seem to be pushing for the appointment of either Police Investigations Department (PID) Deputy Director Moshe Saada or prominent private-sector lawyers Eyal Besserglick and Tali Gottlieb.
Saada has gotten into the news for clashing with Mandelblit, something that could endear him to the Likud.
Besserglick has right-wing bona fides, having defended high-profile “Hebron Shooter” Elor Azaria, a soldier sent to jail for killing a wounded Palestinian terrorist in 2015. But he is younger than most other candidates.
Gottlieb has more experience than Besserglick and recently defended a female defendant who allegedly harassed Ben-Ari.
To date, the list is considered shorter than acceptable. Justice Ministry officials are considering trying to convince some other prominent officials, possibly including district court judges, to toss their names into the mix.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Mandelblit jointly announced on Sunday a major reform of how the PID handles cases, especially those regarding weaker sectors of society.
A commission was formed in July 2019 to study the issue of discrimination against Ethiopians by the police and the PID following a police officer’s shooting and killing of Ethiopian Solomon Tekah.
The officer was later indicted for negligent homicide and is currently on trial. But handling of the incident and similar incidents by the police and the PID was highly criticized.
According to the reforms, the handling of claims against police officers will be significantly expedited. Regular investigations must be concluded within 75 days, and decisions whether to prosecute must be made within six months.
With respect to “sensitive” cases, such as the Ethiopian community, investigations must be concluded within 30 days, and a final decision whether to prosecute within an additional three months.
In addition, any decision not to prosecute in a sensitive case must receive the approval of the head of PID, and any request to go beyond the four months must also receive high-level approval, according to the reforms.