Shai Nitzan defends both A-G and himself

Dismisses attack on him as a private call.

SHAI NITZAN: The law is not math; there are always disagreements. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
SHAI NITZAN: The law is not math; there are always disagreements.
Former state attorney Shai Nitzan on Friday night came out in defense of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Channel 12 days after a recording of a private call of Mandelblit’s came to light in which he slammed Nitzan as a “manic” who “has his arms around my throat.”
In the interview, Nitzan said, “he was mad at me, but I still think I was right… because I thought there was an implication of a conflict of interest,” in defending his decision not to rule on the legal issue that Mandelblit was angry about and said in the private call that Nitzan was holding over him.
This brought to light that in 2015-2016, Mandelblit had a major point of tension with Nitzan regarding the Harpaz Affair decision.
Overall, Nitzan made two main points.
He said that Mandelblit should not be taken to task for making improper comments in a private call with a confidant since most people speak from the gut and not necessarily rationally in private conversations.
Second, just as he defended Mandelblit against accusations that he had violated his duties or been blackmailed as attorney-general, Nitzan still defended his decision on the actual legal issue connected to the Harpaz Affair.
The statement continued that, “working relations between Dr. Mandelblit and with the prior state attorney Shai Nitzan, were excellent, the two worked with full cooperation and a purity of purpose to guarantee the rule of law… and all of the other personal issues were left to the side.”
The controversy blew up in a Channel 12 report on Tuesday night airing Mandelblit’s private comments in telephone calls with then Israel Bar Association president Efi Naveh in 2015-2016.
Although Mandelblit was only a peripheral figure in the Harpaz Affair – it mostly involved a 2010 rivalry between then defense minister Ehud Barak and then IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi over who was the country’s “Mr. Security” – he was suspected of withholding information from police for 24 hours.
Then attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein closed the case against Mandelblit in 2015, but did not specify whether the decision was based on a “lack of evidence” or because it was considered “completely groundless.”
Mandelblit’s office responded Tuesday night that, “there is no connection between what was said [in his private telephone conversation] and the professionally-based decisions [regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] that were made.”
“It’s true that at the time of the telephone conversations that Mandelblit had harsh claims against certain officials [Mandelblit also mentioned Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber] who were involved with the investigation of the Harpaz Affair, including relating to the basis for closing the case” said the response.
Should Mandelblit later seek appointment to the Supreme Court, he might need the reason for the case being closed to be determined as “completely groundless,” which absolves him of any speculation regarding the case, unlike the other category of “lack of evidence” which leaves a different impression.
Dating back to 2015, Mandelblit had been trying to get Nitzan to officially specify that the case against him was closed for being “completely groundless.” However, by 2017 Nitzan concluded that he could not rule on the issue, with Nitzan saying that he might be perceived as having a conflict of interest to benefit Mandelblit since in the interim the attorney-general had become his superior.
In July, responding to a request to evaluate Mandelblit’s role in the Harpaz Affair, Justice Ministry oversight czar Judge David Rozen said that if an error needs to be amended, it is that Mandelblit’s name should be fully cleared. Rozen issued his ruling the day after Netanyahu launched multiple attacks on Mandelblit for seeking to block him from receiving tycoon donations to pay his legal expenses in his public corruption trial.
The oversight czar, who sent former prime minister Ehud Olmert to jail and criticized Mandelblit and the prosecution on a number of issues, is not viewed as being in anyone’s pocket.
Shortly before Rozen’s decision, Channel 13’s Ayala Hasson and leaks from supporters of Netanyahu had called into question whether charges against Mandelblit should have been dropped and whether he had improperly tampered with the category indicating the basis for the case being closed.
However, Rozen said the biggest error to be fixed now is that Mandelblit’s case should be officially closed because those suspicions have been found to be groundless.
In the run up to the trial of Netanyahu for public corruption, supporters of the prime minister have claimed that Mandelblit was blackmailed or had some kind of improper motivation in his decision to indict the prime minister.
In the recordings of Mandelblit’s private conversation with Naveh from 2015-2016, the attorney-general provides some of the first direct evidence that he felt Nitzan was unfairly holding the Harpaz Affair over his head.
Mandelblit makes no reference to the Netanyahu cases and his decisions about those cases came in 2019, long after Nitzan had refused to make a change in the grounds for closing the Harpaz Affair against him.
Whether observers will see a connection between Nitzan’s decision on the Harpaz Affair and Mandelblit’s later decisions regarding Netanyahu will likely depend on each person’s political outlook.