Israel's AG Holding Consultations Whether Netanyahu Should Step Aside Over Abuse of Office for Personal Benefit

Last week Avichai Mendelblit said PM's trial schedule shouldn't have to force him out of office. Consultations come because of conflict of interest AG sees in Netanyahu's attempts to undermine criminal case against him

Chaim Levinson
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at an Israel Bar Association conference in Herzliya, September 3, 2020
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at an Israel Bar Association conference in Herzliya, September 3, 2020Credit: Meged Gozani
Chaim Levinson
Netael Bandel

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is holding consultations on Wednesday whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be disqualified from serving as premier, because of what Mendelblit sees as Netanyahu's use of the office for his personal benefit as a defendant in three corruption cases.

At a conference of Israel’s Bar Association last week, Mendelblit said Netanyahu does not need to step aside as prime minster, technically speaking, as the timetable of his trial does not require him to spend much time at court.

Mendelblit did not address disqualifying Netanyahu on principle, which would stem from the prime minister's attempts to publically tarnish and harm decision-makers overseeing his case, or to sabotage the legal proceedings.

Sources close to Mendelblit said on Wednesday that there is currently no change in his position regarding Netanyahu's legal ability to act as prime minister, that is, that he may hold on to the position whilst on trial. The Attorney General's office published a statement repeating this, adding that it will not comment on internal deliberations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mendelblit published a response to a claim made by Netanyahu the previous day that the State Prosecutor's Office and the Israel Police "turned" an Arab Israeli man into a terrorist in order to harm the prime minister.

Mendelblit clarified that the State Prosecutor's Office never deemed that Yakub Abu al-Kiyan carried out a terrorist attack, and that the case is not connected to Netanyahu.

"Such claims are false, fabrications whose whole purpose is to delegitimize law enforcement agencies and their decisions regarding the prime minister," Mendelblit said in his response.

Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that the criminal investigations against him were politically driven. On Tuesday, Netanyahu said “these are political investigations, contaminated from the very beginning, set-ups intended to topple the prime minster.”

He then proceeded to attack former Police Chief Roni Alsheich and former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who handled his cases, and implied that Jerusalem District Court judges are partial against him.

On Wednesday, Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's electoral rival turned coalition partner, addressed a message to "everyone involved in law enforcement in the State of Israel."

"Stand tall, do not be afraid or apprehensive, fulfill your duty and defend the rule of law and democracy, and we will fulfill our duty and protect you," he said at the end of a meeting of his parliamentary faction.

"Kahol Lavan holds the Ministry of Justice to prevent dangerous and unnecessary measures, and to continue to protect the courts and the law enforcement system that will ensure Israel's democratic resilience," he added.

Netanyahu's trial began in May, after being postponed because of the coronavirus crisis. In January, the evidentiary phase is slated to begin. The judge leading the trial, Rivka Friedman-Feldman, said it would take place three times a week. The next session is scheduled for December 6, and Netanyahu is obligated by law to appear.

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