Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recently announced that he was recusing himself from the criminal investigation of a judge involved in a road accident.
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The judge, Shlomo Izacksohn, currently serves on prison parole committees. He retired from the bench five years ago after 15 years as a Traffic Court judge and Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge. Before that he was president of the Ramallah Military Court and served in various capacities in the military prosecution, which is how he knows Mendelblit, a former military court judge and military advocate general.
Asked by Haaretz why he took himself off Izacksohn’s case, Mendelblit replied, “We’re talking about a personal friendship from our army service days.”
Though Mendelblit signed a conflict of interest statement when he assumed the attorney general’s post, he did not list any associates whose affairs he would refuse to handle. Eighteen months after assuming office, he is known to have recused himself in three cases – those of former President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Gil Sheffer and now Izacksohn.
He refused to deal with the question of Katsav’s early release because before he became attorney general, he had discussed the issue with Katsav’s brother, Lior. Mendelblit was acquainted with Sheffer from his period as cabinet secretary, and when an investigation was launched against Sheffer for suspected sexual assault, he announced he wouldn’t deal with it “given the nature of my acquaintance with him.”
Mendelblit’s decision to recuse himself from the Izacksohn investigation has sparked interest because he has not disqualified himself from dealing with the investigations against Netanyahu, who appointed him attorney general after he had worked closely with him as cabinet secretary for two-and-a-half years. Former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who headed the five-member committee that nominated Mendelblit to be attorney general, believed that his moving from cabinet secretary to the Attorney General’s Office without a cooling-off period was problematic. Grunis’ was the sole dissenting voice, however.
Izacksohn and Mendelblit haven’t spoken to each other for years. “We are not in contact,” Izacksohn told Haaretz. “The last time I met him was at a celebration six or seven years ago. I spoke to him for two minutes at the entrance, we exchanged pleasantries. I would speak to him when I served in the military prosecution, but I haven’t been there in 20 years. He was also a military judge and we sat together in meetings of military judges at which we discussed routine, work-related matters.”
Izacksohn was not invited to the wedding of Mendelblit’s son last month. “I’ve never been in his home, and he’s never been in mine; he was not at any of my celebrations and he didn’t invite me to his,” Izacksohn said.
Haaretz asked the Justice Ministry why Mendelblit had recused himself from dealing with the case of a colleague from long ago, but not from the prime minister’s cases, even though he had worked under the premier very recently.
The ministry spokesman replied, “The connection with Prime Minister Netanyahu was solely of a professional nature, and that’s what the High Court of Justice ruled in the various petitions [that challenged Mendelblit’s appointment]. The connection with Judge Izacksohn was a personal friendship.”