Netanyahu to Attorney General: You Cannot Bar Me From Appointing Judges

AG issued opinion saying that Netanyahu had a conflict of interest, Netanyahu responds accusing him of same

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a government meeting, July 6, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during a government meeting, July 6, 2020.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem / Pool
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had no authority to bar him from dealing with law enforcement issues because of what Mendelblit regards as a conflict of interest due to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

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Netanyahu said that because Mendelblit had filed the indictment against him, the attorney general was himself in a conflict of interest when it came to issuing an opinion on the matter. Netanyahu made the statement in response to the draft version of the legal opinion on preventing conflicts of interest, which the attorney general had conveyed to him.

A letter sent to Mendelblit by attorney Yossi Cohen in Netanyahu’s name stated that the attorney general’s draft opinion was unreasonable, lacked authority and was itself tainted by conflict of interests.

“My claims against you are not ‘false, baseless accusations,’ but claims of fact based on evidence and law. It is in fact your claims that are evasive and show that, lacking germane responses, you continue to entrench yourself in your positions, to err and mislead, while intentionally ignoring the explicit language of the rules,” Cohen wrote in Netanyahu’s name. He asked to meet with Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who wrote the draft opinion, in order to discuss it.

The legal opinion bars Netanyahu from dealing with issues associated with law enforcement, including the appointment of senior officials and judges. The draft opinion was written in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Movement for Quality Government seeking to bar Netanyahu from dealing with such appointments because of his trial.

In the draft, completed last month, Netanyahu’s lawyers were asked to respond within 10 days. On Thursday Mendelblit said the draft opinion would be adopted as binding if Netanyahu’s lawyers failed to provide a substantive response to it by Sunday. Mendelblit also asked the High Court to submit a further response on the matter within 45 days, or to set a date for a hearing on the petition.

The draft opinion was not made public, but the attorney general wrote that it “relates to the conflict of interests that arises in aspects pertaining to appointments to the Israel Police and roles in law enforcement and the Justice Ministry; aspects involving the status, fulfillment of functions and budgets of the attorney general, the state prosecution, the police investigations and intelligence branch, as well as other officials in the Justice Ministry in connection with prevention of corruption and ethics; in matters pertaining to the Judicial Appointments Committee; in decisions involving witnesses and decisions involving witnesses and defendants on trial, ethics legislation or legislation concerning the legal system. Likewise, the conflict of interest applies to decisions concerning the media that have implications for the legal system.”

Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases  The trial opened in May and Netanyahu’s attorney Amit Hadad asked that the evidentiary phase be postponed until March 2021.