Israel's High Court Hears Arguments on Conduct in Netanyahu Probes

Justices call demand that attorney general recuse himself from the three investigations against the prime minister 'premature.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 5, 2017.
Marc Israel Sellem

The High Court of Justice heard petitions Wednesday concerning the conduct in three separate investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Known as cases 1000, 2000 and 3000, respectively, they concern allegations that Netanyahu improperly accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen, that he offered to advance legislation favorable to a newspaper publisher in return for more favorable coverage and that he may have had a role in possible corruption surrounding the procurement of military submarines.

Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Anat Baron and Uzi Vogelman heard petitions filed by MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) and political activist Eldad Yaniv, as well as a petition from the Movement for Quality Government.

The petitioners asked that an investigation be opened into the prime minister in the three cases, and demanded that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit be blocked from involvement in the probes, citing conflict of interest.

Rubinstein called the petition premature, while Vogelman said a postmortem could not be conducted on an ongoing investigation, particularly on one that must remain under wraps.

Rubinstein said the claims of Mendelblit’s conflict of interest were adequately addressed in discussions surrounding his fitness to serve as attorney general after recently serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. Addressing Yuval Yoaz, Yaniv and Margalit’s representative in the court, Rubinstein said “one can understand politicians and people in the media being suspicious about the establishment, but I was attorney general and while I know there can be controversies, one can’t assume that things are just swept under the rug without anyone saying a word.”

Dana Briskman, the lawyer representing the state, criticized the petitions, saying that their purpose was to affect the pace and the direction of investigations that are still under way. “The law enforcement system is doing its job optimally,” she said, adding that the decision to investigate the allegations surrounding the procurement of the submarines was not prompted by previous petitions to the High Court, despite reports that this was the case.