Secret Meetings on Netanyahu Cases With AG Meant ‘To Exert Influence’, Legal Scholar Says

Prof. Yedidya Stern says he chose the group of legal experts who secretly advised the attorney general before Netanyahu was indicated, with some of the participants known to be critical of the prosecution

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in the Knesset, December 3, 2018.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in the Knesset, December 3, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

One of the legal experts chosen to advise Israel's attorney general on the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he was indicted said Tuesday that the group of scholars that was involved in the process sought “to exert influence."

Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit secretly convened this forum alongside his official discussions with prosecutors and other Justice Ministry officials. One of the experts, Prof. Yedidya Stern, told Army Radio that he was the one who proposed the group and chose its members, and that he intentionally chose people “whose positions can’t be predicted in advance.”

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Stern added that some of the participants “are known for being critical of the prosecution in certain regards, and that was the intention.”

Mendelblit began meeting with the group shortly before he announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in November of 2019.

Stern said that he was “proud of what happened” in the group, and that they discussed the planned indictment’s public ramifications as well as its legal aspects – particularly “the question of whether a sitting prime minister should be indicted on an unprecedented matter.” He was referring to the decision to treat favorable media coverage as a bribe.

The group’s other members were professors Yuval Elbashan, Ruth Gavison, Yuval Shany and Ron Shapira. Each meeting lasted around three hours and began with Mendelblit explaining the issues that were bothering the Justice Ministry. Each expert was then asked to comment.

At one meeting, Shapira said he thought establishing the group had been a mistake, because the attorney general isn’t supposed to consult people outside the Justice Ministry. But Stern countered in the interview that “anyone who cares about the rule of law wants [the attorney general’s] considerations to be as broad and deep as possible.”

In an interview with the public radio station Kan Bet on Tuesday, Elbashan said the group’s discussions weren’t about the evidence, but about fundamental issues of legal policy. “We talked about the cases, but we didn’t see documents; he didn’t show us the evidence,” he said.

Among the issues they discussed, he added, were “whether it’s right to announce the decision to indict the prime minister as soon as the attorney general makes up his mind, or whether he should wait until after the election,” and more generally, “to what extent the legal calendar should take the political calendar into consideration.”

Mendelblit didn’t approach the Netanyahu cases “with a knife between his teeth,” Elbashan said, but rather sought to hear “more and more opinions on the issues that troubled him.” Moreover, he added, “on issues of legal strategy to which there aren’t unequivocal answers, the attorney general ought to hear every opinion. This doesn’t mean he’s setting up a ‘shadow prosecution.’”

In the most serious case against him, Netanyahu is charged with bribery for allegedly granting regulatory benefits to the Bezeq telecommunications firm in exchange for slanted coverage by its internet news site, Walla.

Mendeblit therefore wanted the experts’ views on having the prime minister be the first person charged with briberty for receiving favorable media coverage. He also consulted them on various other issues, including Netanyahu’s request that his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, be allowed to fund his legal defense.

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