Israel's Top Court Will Decide Whether Netanyahu Should Resign if Indicted, Attorney General Says

Avichai Mendelblit says a decision will be made 'as fast as possible' on whether to indict Netanyahu in the corruption cases

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the State Control Committee meeting, December 3, 2018.
Emil Salman

The High Court of Justice will have to decide if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to resign if he is indicted in the corruption cases against him, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Monday.

“In principle, my position is to act according to the law and the rulings of the Supreme Court," the attorney general said during a session of the State Control Committee, in the Knesset.

"In the case of a cabinet minister, there is a clear ruling of the Supreme Court to the effect that after a decision is made to file of an indictment against him, the minister must resign from his post. As for the prime minister, this is a not simple question, it certainly will reach the High Court, and then it will have to decide on this matter, too,” Mendelblit told the committee.

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If Netanyahu is indicted, the attorney general will still have to express his own opinion, in principle, as to whether the prime minister must resign, even before a petition is submitted to the High Court on the matter – whether it comes from the public or Netanyahu himself. The attorney general’s opinion will carry a great deal of weight in the High Court.

When citing the case of a minister, Mendelblit was referring to a ruling by the High Court from 1993, stating then – and recently again – that Interior Minister Arye Dery could not continue in office after a harsh indictment on charges of corruption was filed against him. At the time, no explicit precedent existed on the matter that would demand a resignation, but then-Attorney General Yosef Harish supported a petition to the High Court by the Movement for Quality Government, which objected to Dery continuing in office.

In 2013, the High Court ruled in a similar manner against the continued tenure of mayors who had been indicted on various charges – despite the fact that then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein did not support their resignation.

At Monday’s session in the Knesset, which was chaired by MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) and scheduled to discuss the status of gatekeepers in the control committee, Mendelblit said it was important to reach a decision in the cases concerning Netanyahu as soon as possible.

“Everyone is working on this with all their energy to reach a quick decision. But if you expect decision on these matters without having received the positions of the supervising prosecutors and the state prosecutor – you wouldn’t want to live in such a country,” he added.

Asked how long it will take to reach a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, and whether the attorney general will inform Israelis about that decision if the next Knesset election is held as scheduled in November 2019, Mendelblit said: “I am a professional, not a politician, and I will work in a professional manner. Not according to when or if there are elections.”

He added, "I am working in order to make the best decision for the people of Israel. I have no intention of rushing through things and I resent hints to that effect. [The decision] will be made as fast as possible."

The police "are not persecuting anyone, and the lawyers neither want to persecute nor to rule,” said the attorney general. "We are pursuing justice and the rule of law."

Mendelblit was asked by Yacimovich for his opinion on Netanyahu’s attack on Sunday against the police's recommendations to indict him.

“In cases such as this, as far as I’m concerned, the police’s recommendations are the police’s recommendations and not those of the State Prosecutor’s Office. We need to back up the police and give them full support. I think that everything they did, they did in a professional manner. I give full backing to the Israel Police,” he answered.

As for the decision to name an additional team of lawyers to examine the cases against Netanyahu, Mendelblit said the move was planned well in advance.

“It was a decision made a few months ago ... It is very similar to previous decisions to appoint additional teams. There is always an obligation that, alongside the supervising prosecutor, there are others who will improve the decision," said Mendelblit. "This is part of my responsibility. My obligation, to make the best recommendation, to consult with the best people.”