A-G: Start of trial may not disqualify Netanyahu from remaining PM

Yariv Levin: Doesn't make sense that we destroy settler houses, but not those of terrorists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be able to remain in office even when his corruption trial starts in January, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said Thursday.
The main condition for Netanyahu to continue as prime minister, despite the distraction of a trial with three hearings per week, would be that he refrain from interfering with law-enforcement appointments and actions, he said at the Israel Bar Association conference in Herzliya.
Mandelblit’s statement may cause dismay among Netanyahu’s opponents, some of whom had hoped that the attorney-general would seek to disqualify him in January on the grounds that the trial would distract him from being able to continue his duties competently.
Besides the Netanyahu trial and the rule of law, the attorney-general noted two other crises facing the country: coronavirus and the strain between the different branches of government.
Even as the law has been changed to permit Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of corona-infected citizens and limit the rights of some businesses to open and the movements of some citizens (including lockdowns), his legal staff has performed oversight and tried to balance citizens’ competing rights with national efforts to combat the coronavirus, Mandelblit said.
The executive branch cannot exercise powers beyond its limits even during an emergency, he said.
Effective Knesset oversight of the executive branch must continue and cannot be viewed as a grudging annoyance, akin to just checking a box, Mandelblit warned.
Likewise, court decisions obligate everyone and are necessary brakes to unlimited abuses of power, he said.
Mandelblit explicitly backed Finance Ministry legal adviser Esi Messing, who is being attacked by Finance Minister Israel Katz.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut also strongly defended the independence of the judicial branch from attacks by the political class.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) said attacks on the court system and the state prosecution could destroy Israel’s democracy.
Israel’s courts are statistically less activist than courts in many other democratic countries, he said, adding that he would not allow the legal establishment to be harmed.
Israel Bar Association president Avi Himi said any “public servant who attacks the courts or the attorney-general” with impure motives and nonprofessional language “is not fit to serve.”
Earlier at the conference, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said it made no sense that the High Court of Justice “cannot justify destroying the houses of terrorists, but at the same time can [justify] destroying the houses” of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
The situation is “intolerable,” he said, adding that “for our High Court, what determines decisions [is] who is asking for their rights to be protected,” explicitly accusing the court of siding with leftist causes and turning its back on defending the rights of right-wing causes.
Levin was referring to two recent decisions by the High Court.
In July, the High Court vetoed the demolition of the home of Palestinian Nizmi Abu Bakar, who has been indicted for killing soldier Amit Ben-Yigal by dropping a large slab on his head from a roof.
In August, the court ordered the demolition of the unauthorized Jewish West Bank Mitzpe Kramim outpost, which was built on private Palestinian property.
The court did give the residents 36 months to evacuate, and Netanyahu has said that he would try to find some creative solution to help them remain where they are or nearby.
Pressed to address highly hyperbolic language against the High Court, Levin for a moment agreed that critical language should remain professional. But he quickly pivoted, saying that the root of the problem was the court injecting itself into politics.
Many major High Court decisions are made using the judicial doctrines of “reasonability” and “proportionality,” two concepts it can and does easily abuse based on its left-wing political worldview, he said.
In the current coalition, due to the alliance with the centrist Blue and White Party, Levin said he would not have the votes to push through a new law to give the Knesset the ability to override High Court vetoes of Knesset laws.
Levin said he has changed the way the position of Knesset speaker operates, diving further into political issues than his predecessors.
He can legally fulfill his obligation as speaker to remain neutral, while still fighting for Likud Party causes at the expense of other parties, as long as he also protects the opposition’s right to have a voice, Levin said.
He made sure the opposition would lead the Knesset State Control Committee, which indicates he has fulfilled this duty, he said.
Appointments of key law-enforcement officers are completely frozen for the time being as Likud and Blue and White work on bridging their differences over the country’s budget, he added.
Levin is known as one of the High Court’s most harsh critics. Others seek more cosmetic reforms to balance the court’s powers, while he seeks a massive restructuring of the separation of powers.
Critics of Levin say he ignores that Israel has no constitution, something the Knesset should solve, which forces the High Court of Justice to rule on quasi-constitutional issues.
Hayut criticized Levin’s call to change the way that High Court justices are appointed. The mix of judicial, Israel Bar Association and political officials is designed to guarantee that appointments are not politicized, she said.