Knesset coalition whip Miki Zohar threatened Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit Wednesday, saying that if Mendelblit does not resign from his position and drop the three indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, incriminating recordings of him will be leaked to the public.
Zohar, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, made the threat during an interview with 103FM Radio. He was referring to a report by Channel 12 News on Tuesday, which broadcast recordings of telephone conversations from about five years ago between Mendelblit and Efraim Nave, who was president of the Israel Bar Association at the time. In the recordings, Mendelblit is heard saying that then-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan had not issued a ruling clearing Mendelblit of guilt following a police investigation into Mendelblit’s conduct in the Harpaz affair.
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The Harpaz affair involved alleged efforts to skew the selection process in 2011 for the appointment of a new chief of staff of the Israeli military. At the time, Mendelblit was the military advocate general. The investigation against him was closed, but there has never been a formal explanation why.
“It’s only a small portion that has been disclosed, and I promise you that other things will be revealed shortly," Zohar said during the radio interview. "There will be an earthquake here. Avichai Mendelblit will have no alternative but to step down from his position and cancel the indictments against Netanyahu.” Asked whether he was making a threat, Zohar replied: “No, it’s a promise.”
The attorney general's office responded to Zohar's statements, saying that "threats won't deter the attorney general from doing his job. The attorney general has worked fearlessly and with the proper considerations throughout his tenure, and he will continue to do so.
"The claim that the AG was blackmailed or that his decisions were influenced by other considerations is totally absurd.” It added, “As was clarified yesterday, there is no connection between the things which were said at the heat of the moment in a private conversation between friends five years ago, when Mendelblit felt hurt by the way he was treated. Any attempt to intimidate him by threatening to reveal slanderous materials will fail.”
Zohar also alleged that Shai Nitzan has other information that could send Mendelblit to prison. “I’m not going to talk [about it] because it hasn’t been disclosed yet. I am sure it'll be released. There are other conversations that were recorded. There are other cases that haven't been released yet,” Zohar said.
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“I won’t violate the law or ethics [standards] here even though I have immunity, but I will tell you one thing. They wouldn’t have been able to file the baseless and pathetic charges against Netanyahu if Shai Nitzan had not taken it on as his life's work, as an extreme leftist who decided that Netanyahu has to go home at any price,” Zohar told the radio station.
“It's unequivocal – these are purely political ideological motivations. An extremist leftist who has always hated the right wing,” Zohar said of Nitzan, who stepped down as state prosecutor at the end of last year. “He has not only abandoned his skullcap. He has abandoned all of the values that it symbolizes.”
Following his statements, Attorney Gonen Ben Itzhak, a prominent member of the protest movement against Netanyahu, filed a police complaint against Zohar. Ben Itzhak claimed that the coalition whip's remarks constitute the crime of blackmail via threats and disrupting legal procedures, for both his threats against Mendelblit and his intervention in Netanyahu's criminal cases. The attorney general's office statement added that the office is not involved in the complaint Ben Itzhak filed against Zohar.
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that Zohar’s remarks were made without the prime minister’s knowledge, and that “they are not his opinion.” The prime minister had not discussed the matter with Zohar “and takes exception to the comments, and they are not acceptable to him,” the statement added.
In November of last year, Mendelblit announced his decision to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases, following a recommendation by the police that he be indicted on the corruption allegations. The case formally went to court in May and the evidentiary phase of the case is due to begin early next year.
In the recordings reported on by Channel 12, Mendelblit is heard telling Nave, the bar association president: “But do you understand that this son of a bitch isn’t making a decision in my case?” Mendelblit said that Nitzan is dragging matters out in not deciding the grounds on which the case was closed, over apparent concern that he would not be entirely cleared of guilt. “He’s doing it to me deliberately. I don’t know what to do,” he added. “I was sure he would toss it out in seconds.”
When Nave asked why Mendelbit didn’t simply speak to Nitzan about it, noting that Shai Nitzan as state prosecutor reported to Mendelblit as attorney general, Mendelblit said this was different because it involved a personal legal matter. Asked by Nave whether Nitzan could simply drag matters out for years, Mendelblit responded: “Could be. Yes, he could hold me by the throat.
“Ultimately, I’m going to explode and make a terrible mess of things for him on this. I don’t know. I … I’ll push it further.”