Publicizing Details of Netanyahu Inquiry Now Would Be Harmful, Attorney General Warns

Avichai Mendelblit said details of new investigation will be released at the proper time, stresses public's 'right to know.'

Israel Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, July 18, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Monday that publication of details about the recent inquiry into affairs involving Prime Minister Benjamin would damage the investigatory process.

“When I decide that there will be no damage, [information on] the matters involved will be released to the public,” he said.

Mendelblit, who mentioned the investigation concerning Netanyahu for the first time at a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said “the public has a right to know, and it is very important, but there is an obligation to investigate properly.”

“We must strike a balance between the right of the public to know and causing harm – and [publication of details now] will be damaging.”

The rumor mill is working overtime, the attorney general added, so one must take the things one hears about this subject with a grain of salt. “They are not accurate,” Mendelblit asserted.

In response to a query from MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), Mendelblit refused to say whether the investigation in question also involves members of Netanyahu’s family.

On another topic entirely, Mendelblit also expressed his disgust with respect to recent comments by rabbis against members of the gay community.

“I reject these things and they are unacceptable for me. Nonetheless, we must be cautious in general about the entire matter of freedom of expression," he warned.

“I am very careful when it comes to freedom of expression even when unpleasant, ugly and immoral things are said. Until it reaches places that cannot be accepted, such as incitement to violence or terror,” said Mendelblit.

The State Prosecutor’s Office is examining the declarations by the rabbis, he explained. When asked by MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) as to whether it was possible to discipline municipal rabbis (who are government employees), Mendelblit said he would have to check with the political leadership.

“The authority to file a [disciplinary] complaint against a city rabbi is in the hands of the justice minister,” he said, adding that there is some dispute over the amount of freedom these rabbis have.

As to the various controversial comments made by the candidate for the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim, Mendelblit said – in response to a question from MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) – that the decision as to whether to appoint Karim is in the hands of the army's commanders. But, he added, “I certainly do not like these statements. When it comes [time], we will have to deal with it.”

Mendelblit also discussed a document recently prepared by the Israel Police that ostensibly includes intelligence information related to a long list of public figures. He said the first thing he had wanted to know about it was whether any initiative had been taken to collect such information about ministers or Knesset members, and that was completely ruled out.

Mendelblit noted that it was a very serious act for someone to leak the document, or parts of it, to the media.

“It is an intelligence document, the heart of the secrets of the police. The police commissioner and I want to make a joint procedure in order for such a thing not to be put aside. The content of the document was checked in real time but in retrospect it turns out we did not know about it – the state prosecutor, police commissioner or the attorney general.”