Analysis

No to Netanyahu: Israel's Attorney General Made the Right Decision

Those who want to prevent the public from knowing the attorney general’s conclusions are obstructing democracy and belittling the people

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting next to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a cabinet meeting in 2015.
Dan Balilty/Pool photo via AP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit made the right decision in turning down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request, made through his lawyers, to delay pursuit of the corruption cases against him. Moreover, it is the only reasonable decision. Accepting Netanyahu’s request to postpone a decision on indicting him until after the election would be patently unreasonable.

We can just imagine a situation in which Mendelblit was about to close the cases because no wrongdoing was found (a decision over which the High Court of Justice could be petitioned), and others were to ask him to delay the proceedings until after the elections so he could scrutinize the evidence more closely; clearly Netanyahu and his supporters would have torn them to pieces.

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The same would be true if Netanyahu was in the opposition and another prime minister was the one suspected of corruption and trying to delay the attorney general’s decision. The ground would tremble and there is no condemnation or curse that would not be hurled at such a prime minister.

We often hear claims from suspects, sometimes justified, that the law enforcement system works too slowly or even drags its feet. Not Netanyahu. He is complaining that the system is working too fast and too efficiently for his personal interests. One needs quite a large dose of shamelessness to raise such a claim.

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Impertinence also characterizes the claim of Netanyahu’s supporters who accuse the attorney general Netanyahu chose and appointed, of weakness and cowardice in the face of the prime minister’s opponents.

During the investigations against him, Netanyahu accused the police of a political witch hunt and of framing him in order to remove him from government. He said the police, but he meant the attorney general, because the latter is the one who directed the investigation and bears full responsibility for it. When the prime minister himself makes such a serious accusation – actually a false allegation – isn’t that pressure on the attorney general? Indeed the pot calling the kettle black.

In his wisdom, the attorney general planned it so that most of his work on the investigations (everything involving the prosecution) and that of his aides has already been laid out before the election. All that is left for the attorney general to do is to put the plan into action and act accordingly, without looking to the right or left. Anyone who seeks to divert him from the plan has malicious and improper intentions and should be ignored.

The fact that Netanyahu made a mistake in a move he thought brilliant, and called early elections to prevent publication of the attorney general’s conclusions, should not influence Mendelblit’s work in the slightest. That fact only attests to how much Netanyahu prefers his own interests to the good of the country and the public.

Mendelblit’s decision to proceed with the cases is obligatory based on the principle of equality before the law, which manifests itself in the attorney general’s directives set in 2005. That is precisely the way the case of Tzachi Hanegbi was handled then. The attorney general published his conclusions before the election and the hearing took place after it. That is the way the prosecution treated mayors, who are also elected directly by the public.

The attorney general’s decision is also obligatory based on the principle of the public’s right to know, a right that has special significance during an election, the most decisive act by citizens in a democracy. Netanyahu’s supporters often speak about law enforcement obstructing the democratic process, but the opposite is true.

The ones who are obstructing democracy are those who belittle the people, treating them as if they have no sense and do not know how to differentiate between conclusions that are not final prior to a hearing and those that are final after a hearing.

The ones who are obstructing democracy and an informed choice at the ballot box are those who want to prevent the public from knowing what the attorney general’s non-final conclusions are. They want the public to march toward Election Day blindfolded, so people will neither see nor know. Would an attorney general who lent a hand to such a thing not be charged, and rightfully so, with political interference?

Netanyahu’s supporters have a problem with the attorney general’s conclusions. As long as it was a matter of the police investigations and their conclusions, or the prosecution’s work and its conclusions, they swore by the attorney general’s fairness and professionalism and demanded to wait for his conclusions. Now that the conclusions are on the way, they claim that they are unimportant because everyone already knows that Mendelblit cannot be trusted due to the pressure to which he is being subjected.

Whatever the attorney general’s conclusions are, the prime minister has failed miserably by severely undermining the public’s faith in the law enforcement system, and will apparently continue to do so. That faith is essential when it comes to the fight against government corruption, an issue on which there should have been full consensus on the right and the left. Instead, it has become one of dispute, with the camp on the right standing behind the prime minister’s flag opposing the war on government corruption.

No less terrible is the fact that Netanyahu has harnessed almost the entire political sphere that supports him to the faulty position that all that matters is the law, and that public norms and ethics do not apply to public servants. This position is fertile ground for political corruption. A leader’s character is also tested by the way he faces the public when suspected of criminal wrongdoing.

This is a test that Netanyahu has utterly failed. He has proven that only his personal benefit, extricating himself from the “nothing” they have against him, is at the forefront of his mind, and the state can go to hell.