Editorial

Back Off, Mendelblit

The fact that these recordings were in the hands of the attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, for several months raises serious questions about his functioning in the case.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in November 2016.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in November 2016. Lior Mizrahi

It turned out Sunday that the main case at the center of the investigation against Benjamin Netanyahu involves negotiations between him and businessman Arnon Mozes, the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher.

According to the report, the conversations between the two dealt with the possibility that Netanyahu would weaken the freebie Israel Hayom in exchange for Yedioth changing its editorial line to be more favorable toward the prime minister.

The relationship that emerges from this recording is very serious. In contrast to previous cases, like that of Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon, it is hard to estimate in shekels the apparent scope of the corruption. And indeed when a major media outlet is prepared to alter its coverage of him for economic gain, either directly or indirectly, and when the prime minister is prepared to act – either through legislation or using his connections – to influence the way he is covered, it is sufficient to crush the foundations upon which lie democracy and deal a mortal blow to public faith.

The fact that these recordings were in the hands of the attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, for several months raises serious questions about his functioning in the case and about his ability to act as he should down the line.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis was right when he said he believed that Mendelblit should be disqualified from serving as state attorney general and be given a cooling-down period in deference to his close work with Netanyahu while serving as cabinet secretary. In recent months, the attorney general has made a succession of controversial and perplexing decisions. He delayed giving the order to open a full criminal investigation, restricted the freedom of movement of the investigative team while micromanaging every step, blocking potential avenues of investigation, shelved some of the preliminary inquiries and hid from the public primary information without providing a satisfactory explanation.

Mendelblit’s decision last week to order a criminal investigation into the two cases, dubbed Case 1000 and Case 2000, does not negate his conflict of interests. Mendelblit bore out the fears that accompanied his appointment. The more that details are revealed, the less there is avoiding the conclusion that the attorney general must take his hands off these cases and confer his authority upon one of the deputy attorneys general or State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.