Attorney General Throws Conflict of Interest Dispute With Netanyahu to High Court

Avichai Mendelblit reverses his original position after the prime minister informed the court that he rejects the attorney general’s authority to impose an agreement

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a Bar Association conference, September 2020
Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a Bar Association conference, September 2020Credit: Meged Gozani
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that he no longer opposed a petition to bring the question of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged conflict of interest before that court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed the High Court on Thursday that he wanted his case heard by the panel, and that he rejected Mendelblit’s authority to impose an agreement.

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The issue at hand is Mendelblit’s legal opinion, issued in July, that Netanyahu has conflicts of interest concerning appointments in the law enforcement system, given his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Mendelblit’s opinion also applies to Netanyahu’s involvement in the activities of the attorney general, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the internal investigations branch of the police, as well as other bodies in the Justice Ministry involved in ethics oversight and the corruption prevention.

Mendelblit had wanted Netanyahu to sign a legal document that would bar him from being involved in the appointments and promotions of senior officials in law enforcement agencies and courts, and from interfering in the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee.

After Mendeblit initially submitted this document to the court, he informed it that his objection to a High Court petition by the Movement for Quality Government was now unnecessary, because the document would resolve any conflict of interests on Netanyahu’s part.

But after Netanyahu refused to accept Mendelblit’s authority to impose the conflict of interest arrangement, or to accept the terms of the document restricting his involvement in the justice system, Mendelblit changed his position and called on the High Court to respond to the petition.

“In the framework on his response to the petition, Netanyahu objects to the authority of the attorney general to give a binding legal opinion,” Mendelblit wrote. “Thus it cannot be said that the petitions are not relevant, and it seems that they need to continue to be examined.”

Mendelblit has asked the court to give him two days to submit a new position on the petition, in which he would address Netanyahu’s claims of Mendelblit’s lack of authority to impose a conflict of interests agreement in general, and the specific clauses in the agreement to which the prime minister objects.

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