Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has privately charged that both Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad are trying to oust him, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be involved as well, according to a senior Justice Ministry official who was present during these conversations.
Mendelblit had opposed Eldad’s appointment to the position, believing him to be unfit for the role. When the acting state prosecutor first took office, Mendelblit ordered senior prosecutors to brief him on everything Eldad did. According to the senior Justice Ministry official, the attorney general’s concerns grew when Eldad ordered an investigation into Fifth Dimension, a company formerly chaired by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, then Netanyahu’s chief rival, ahead of the previous round of elections without consulting the police.
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The attorney general denies the reports that he expressed these suspicions, and Eldad called the idea of such a plot “inconceivable.” Eldad added that the claim that prosecution officials were told to report on his actions is “a grave act of spying on their manager.”
In his reported conversations, Mendelblit also cited Eldad’s frequent meetings with Justice Minister and Netanyahu loyalist Amir Ohana, which Mendelblit believed to be excessive for a state prosecutor. When Mendelblit tested Eldad’s credibility by asking him what was discussed at those meetings, some of which he had been briefed on by other sources, he believed Eldad was concealing crucial information from him in his answers.
On Sunday, Eldad asked State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman to look into allegations regarding Mendelblit, based on what he claimed was new information he received from Channel 13 journalist Akiva Novick. After his letter was reported in the media, he stressed that the allegations in question did not involve suspected crimes, but rather “the handling of Dr. Mendelblit’s case, as opposed to his own actions.”
The case in question, the so-called Harpaz affair of 2010, involved an IDF officer’s forgery and circulation of a false document in an effort to influence the appointment of the next chief of staff. Mendelblit, who was the military advocate general at the time, was questioned in the case, but was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
He became even more suspicious after the investigative television program “Hamakor” appealed a district court’s decision to bar it from airing a recording from the Harpaz investigation. The prosecution submitted to the Supreme Court their opposition to broadcasting the tape, which allegedly exposed problematic conduct by Mendelblit, but Elded asked senior officials within the prosecution to reconsider their position and called a meeting to discuss the issue. The meeting, which was supposed to be held in March, never took place due to the coronavirus outbreak.
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Justice Ministry officials also wondered how journalist Baruch Kara obtained the recording, which was not included in the investigative materials passed on to the defense in the Harpaz case. Mendelblit told associates he suspected Eldad – who headed the team of prosecutors that dealt with the case a decade ago – of leaking it. Eldad’s support for letting Kara air the recording, and his eagerness to use a journalist’s query to re-open the issue of the attorney general’s conduct during the case, bolstered Mendelblit’s suspicion that Eldad sought to discredit him.
On Thursday, Mendelblit sent a letter to the Civil Service Commission saying that Eldad’s appointment, which was supposed to end on May 1, could not be extended on legal grounds. In that letter, he assailed Eldad for what he termed both professional and ethical lapses. Among other things, he accused Eldad of concealing information from him about cases the prosecution was handling and his meetings with Ohana, giving him inaccurate reports and pushing inessential matters at the expense of more urgent ones. He added that the state prosecutor was appointed by a caretaker government, and that the incoming justice minister should have a say in Eldad’s replacement.
Mendelblit’s letter to the Civil Service Commission came in response to the coalition agreement signed by Netanyahu and Gantz, which effectively freezes all senior appointments during the government’s first six months. This would allow Eldad would stay on during this period. Moreover, once appointments are unfrozen, Netanyahu will have veto power over the choice of the new state prosecutor and the next attorney general.
In response, Eldad charged that Mendelblit wanted him gone because he had started looking into the information about the Harpaz affair provided to him by the Channel 13 journalist. “The material seems to draw a worrying picture about the handling of Mendelblit’s case,” he said. He added that in the past few days, he told the relevant officials that he intends to investigate the issue in-depth, and is waiting for their response.
Then, on Friday, senior prosecutors sent a letter to Eldad assailing his attack on Mendelblit. “We’re shocked that instead of addressing the substance of his complaints, you chose to smear the attorney general and his motives for opposing an extension of your term,” they wrote.
The terms of the coalition agreement led Mendelblit to suspect that Netanyahu is playing a part in what he views as the plot to oust him. Netanyahu aide Jonatan Urich tweeted that a senior prosecutor who signed the prosecutors’ letter against Eldad would “soon be signing up for unemployment,” further reinforcing the attorney general’s unease.
Responding to this report, Mendelblit said “Such things never happened.”
Justice Minister Amir Ohana said “I have no intention of responding to briefings in the name of ‘associates.’ As always, If I have something to say, I’ll say it for myself, in my name.”
Eldad sent an response: “It is inconceivable to the acting state prosecutor that the attorney general, who stands at the head of the general prosecution, believes that his second-in-command in the law enforcement system – the state prosecutor – is trying to harm him and by doing so, the law enforcement system as well, even if he is an alternate.” It continued, “It is unfortunate to hear the claim that senior officials in the prosecution were sent to spy on their manager, the acting state prosecutor. This is a grave claim… A claim that topples the process of building trust. All of the meetings with the justice minister were documented and took place alongside officials from his bureau.”
The statement added that Eldad never asked to convene a new meeting on the position of broadcasting the recording from the Harpaz affair. “Due to the fact that the case is facing an additional hearing at the Supreme Court, and another request was filed to examine the tapes at the magistrate’s court, the acting state prosecutor asked to be briefed on the case, a conversation which never took place due to the coronavirus crisis.”