Case Against Israel's Attorney General 'Should Have Been Closed,’ Says Watchdog

Refusal to close the case - which was used by Netanyahu supporters to discredit the AG - was 'unworthy,' says ombudsman

Netael Bandel
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A Netanyahu supporter holds a mask of Mendelblit, May 24, 2020.
A Netanyahu supporter holds a mask of Mendelblit, May 24, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel

The ombudsman for complaints against the prosecution ruled on Wednesday that an old case which has been used by right-wing politicians to discredit Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, should have been closed  for “lack of guilt,” as had been recommended by the High Court of Justice.

At issue is the attorney general’s involvement in the Harpaz affair, in which Mendeblit, then military judge advocate general, was suspected of helping senior army officers cover up a smear campaign. According to the ombudsman, Judge David Rozen, recent reports on the case haven’t added any new information. He also said that investigators and prosecutors who dealt with the issue were familiar with the tape of a secretly recorded conversation between Mendelblit and then-army chief Gabi Ashkenazi, now foreign minister, in which it sounds like Mendelblit was trying to help him.

Rozen criticized former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s handling of the case, saying his refusal to formally close it was “unworthy.”

Details about the recently surfaced tape were reported last month. Rozen noted that while the tape was not available to the Goldberg Committee or the High Court when they were examining Mendelblit’s suitability for the post of attorney general, it could not have been included in the evidence since the recording had not been authorized by a judge.

During his examination of the complaint, Rozen spoke to Mendelblit, Nitzan and Toni Goldenberg, who had supervised the case for the prosecution and had written an opinion against Mendelblit. Goldenberg told Rozen that at first no one realized that the conversation was from a wiretap – including Mendelblit, for whom it was played. Once it became clear that the recording had been unauthorized, it was immediately shelved and all references to it were erased from the files, as required by law.

Rozen quoted Goldenberg as saying, “The findings of the investigation in Dr. Mendelblit’s case were not based on the wiretap recording, which was taken out of the investigation materials.” Rozen added, “Taking into account the ban on relating to the content of the recording, the clear impression ... was that there was nothing in it that would cause a significant change in terms of evidence or weighing whether to prosecute.”

Rozen criticized the fact that the case against Mendelblit remains open – at least according to the police computer files – because no reason for closing it has been entered into the system. “An open police file for serious crimes isn’t to be sneezed at, and for many people it’s a stain,” Rozen said. “Leaving the file open constitutes unworthy behavior.”