State Prosecutor Slams Coalition Whip for Saying 'Millions Won't Accept' Netanyahu Indictment

Shai Nitzan criticizes 'dangerous statements' by Likud MK and ex-PM Ehud Barak on future of PM's corruption charges as undermining public faith in attorney general

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan at a legal convention in the Haifa, Israel, January 4, 2019
Rami Shllush

Israeli State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Deputy Attorney General Raz Nezri criticized on Friday Likud coalition whip David Amsalem's recent claim that "millions of people will not accept" an indictment againt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption charges.

Speaking at a legal convention in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Nitzan called the comment "super problematic," with Nezri adding it was a "dangerous statement."

Addressing comments by former Israeli premier Ehud Barak, who had said that he would only accept a decision by the attorney general only if the latter moved to indict Netanyahu, Nezri said "these comments are precarious."

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"The decision will be made according to the evidence. When you hear one side say 'if the attorney general does this he's persecuting,' and on the other hand you hear 'if he does this it's a sham,' these are statements that undermine faith in the attorney general, and it's harmful," Nezri said.

Nezri also commented on the attorney general's need to disqualify unconstitutional bills, such as those that allow legalizing West Bank outposts and the expulsion of terrorists' families.

"On the same day we had to say a bill was unconsitutional twice," said Nezri. "There's no doubt something is going on here. We sometimes remind the ministers we're also gatekeepers. We're not supposed to serve them, and it's important to remember we also need to assist the government in promoting its policies. It's difficult to say no to the ministers, but we do so with our heads held high."

At the same convention, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak criticized Israel's nation-state law, saying "those who say there's no need for equality in the nation-state law, because it's anchored in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, are hypocrites."

"They are the first to oppose adding it [the nation-state law] to the right for human dignity," he said.

Likud MK Oren Hazan taking a selfie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other coalition members after a nighttime vote on the nation-state law.
Olivier Fitoussi

Nezri added that he also had a great deal of criticism for the nation-state law, "But this is not a law initiated by the Justice Ministry. We do not write the Israeli law."

Nezri said the Justice Ministry voiced concerns that echoed Barak's comments to Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. "We did our best to convince them. Sometimes we succeeded and sometimes we don't."

Fourteen separate petitions have been filed against the law. Earlier this week, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said deliberations have been postponed at the request of the State Prosecutor's Office.

The petitions will be heard by 11 veteran Supreme Court justices. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced he will be defending the law in court.

Nezri recounted an encounter with a Druze employee of the Justice Ministry who heh says came to him in tears. "When you do not include equality in the law, it makes a problematic statement to minorities. As a justice ministry we would be glad if that value was included in this law, but we are not the legislators."

"Some of the reasoning in the Knesset regarding the nation-state law is unworthy," Barak added. He addressed concerns raised in the Knesset that the Supreme Court would annul the Palestinian right of return because it was unconstitutional.

"This is rubbish. I think we are a nation, and our right for self-determination as Jews is in the land of Israel. I accept the first clause, and I think it also stems from the Declaration of Independence. But it's redundant," Barak said. "We need a minority rights law. These elections are serious trouble, and as soon as they are finished, the nation-state law must be amended to ensure the equality of every Arab citizen."

Barak concluded by calling upon justices to "safeguard the democracy" before Israel turns into Hungary, which retired its justices, he said. "He who waits a little, waits forever," said Barak. "If you entrench yourselves, you'll never get out. After they solve the security problem and the terror problem, they'll solve the judges problem."