Israel's Attorney General Not Ruling Out Declaring Netanyahu Incapacitated Over Abuse of Office

Avichai Mendelblit says in leaked interview tape that incapacitation may be necessary if Netanyahu uses his governmental power to influence criminal cases against him

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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
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Haaretz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he may determine that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, is legally obligated to step aside as premier.

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"There is the indicted Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu and there is the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, it is not the same thing," he said in a taped interview obtained by Channel 12 News. "If you mix things up and use your governmental power as prime minister, to influence you criminally, then it begins to be a serious problem. How do we deal with this problem? So if it really is impossible to deal with it, it could be that we will roll into incapacitation."

Mendelblit said these things in an interview with the newspaper "Mishpacha," a recording of which was aired on Channel 12 News on Tuesday.

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Last week Haaretz reported that for two days, members of Israel's coronavirus cabinet butted heads over plans for a tighter lockdown amid the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Apart from the plan approved by the cabinet that allowed group worship and shut down many places of employment, some ministers said they had the impression that Netanyahu was primarily determined to stop the wave of demonstrations against him.

On Tuesday, the Knesset was once again deliberating amendments to the coronavirus law which would allow the government to drastically limit Israelis' freedom to protest, namely by restricting them to a 1,000 meter radius from their home. This would prevent many from across the country to attend anti-Netanyahu protests in front of his official residence in Jerusalem.

When asked when he would know if it was necessary for Netanyahu to step aside, he responded: "It's not math, I am not in a hurry and I try to be very considerate and calm, and each time I count to a thousand and not to ten."

The Attorney General said in an interview that the way to deal with Netanyahu's use of his governmental power is to draft a conflict of interest arrangement with him, which is currently in negotiations between the two.

"He is not doing me any favors," he said of Netanyahu, "I do not accept that he comes and says 'I will voluntarily take on restrictions,' no. You must take on limitations, this is also what the Supreme Court said in its ruling."

Mendelblit added: "I am neither innocent nor naive, and it is clear to me that it will not be 100%, but we do need the statement that he is not, for example, involved in appointments in the law enforcement system, or in amending legislation according to his personal interest. When he uses his governmental power, it must not be allowed to happen."

Mendelblit added that he was saddened by having to file the indictment against Netanyahu. "Unfortunately, my heart really hurts and I'm not just saying it. My heart really hurts, every day I wake up and my heart hurts," he said on the tape. "I got to this place, not good, too bad. On the other hand, this is my duty to the people of Israel. I will not yield to corruption because of such things."

The Attorney General also addressed Netanyahu's claims that the State Prosecutor's Office trumped up the cases against him, saying that the claims of "tailoring the cases and that there's nothing and that there's nothing because there is nothing and all these statements, let's see," he said. "The court will decide and we will see what the decision will be. And I respect every decision, in the end there is a court." 

Mendelblit also added that in his opinion, currently, with the evidence before him, "there is a reasonable chance of a conviction."

The attorney general said he requested that the Netanyahu trial take place quickly, especially in light of the allegations made by the prime minister.

"The people of Israel need a swift decision on this matter. It is not possible to drag it out for five years, it will be very bad if it is five years. It must be done day in day out, to finish it as quickly as possible."

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