Analysis |

Netanyahu's Coalition Whip Must Be Investigated for Extortion

Coalition whip MK Miki Zohar threatened Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Wednesday that if he did not close criminal cases against Netanyahu and resign, more tapes of him would be released

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
Likud Coalition whip Miki Zohar, Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit
Likud Coalition whip Miki Zohar, Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai MendelblitCredit: Ohad Zwingenberg, Yonatan Zondel/Flash90, Meged Gozani
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

When Avichai Mendelblit was appointed attorney general, he promised a person he admired, former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, that he would take up his post without rancor or desire for vengeance against those who were behind his questioning as a potential suspect in the Harpaz affair. It is doubtful he could have kept his superhuman promise.

Haaretz Podcast: Could a Trump triumph be Netanyahu's get out of jail free card?Credit: Haaretz

Mendelblit has a great deal of anger against those behind the decision, including then-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, he was convinced at the time, and probably still is, that the purpose of the investigation was to thwart his appointment. In Mendelblit’s view, there was a conspiracy against him involving Ehud Barak, his predecessor Yehuda Weinstein and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry who had their eye on his job, as well as journalists with an agenda. Like another suspect, he claimed he had been framed.

The tape in which Mendelblit is heard complaining to former Israel Bar Association head Effi Nave that Nitzan “the maniac” intentionally avoided closing the case against him, and that Nitzan could “have me by the throat,” indicates a mistake in judgment on the attorney general’s part. A person who was appointed head of the law enforcement system, and who has the power to change the course of people’s lives and take away their freedom, should not be so deeply involved in himself and what the police computer says about him, especially after his name was cleared for all intents and purposes when he was appointed to the post.

His expectation from Nitzan was mistaken, and the former state prosecutor was right when he refused to touch the criminal case the moment Mendelblit became his boss.

What is more disturbing about the tape uncovered by Channel 12 News is the close connection of the attorney general with the scorpion Nave. The ambitious wheeler-dealer, dubious and brutish, who enlisted the Bar Association’s support of Mendelblit, has since maintained close connections with the man at the top, which included dinners for two as well as secret recordings.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Miki Zohar, in 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In 2017, shortly after the Netanyahu cases broke, a senior Likud official told me that he had met Nave at a wedding. According to the official, Nave calmed him down: “He told me that Mendelblit told him that the [Netanyahu corruption] cases would end up with nothing.” I asked the Justice Ministry spokesman for a response, and the latter vehemently denied that the attorney general had shared his thoughts on the Netanyahu cases with any outside person.

At that same time, Mendelblit’s actions indicated very little faith in the cases: He sat on the Netanyahu-Mozes tapes for many months, and hesitated to question Netanyahu as a potential suspect in the allegedly illegal deal between him and Arnon Mozes, publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth. He rejected a request by the commander of the police national fraud squad, Coresh Barnoor, to question the prime minister and his wife on the illicit gifts affair, and intervened aggressively in the work of the investigators, including censoring questions they wanted to ask suspects and witnesses.

State Prosecutor Nitzan backed all these decisions, and protected the attorney general. Some people in the police and the prosecution were furious at Nitzan for not standing up to Mendelblit, for barely trying to blunt the cold wind coming from the latter’s direction. People who know Nitzan say he was once again acting in keeping with his character: an almost automatic tendency to toe his boss’ line. Just as he backed Weinstein when the latter decided to question Mendelblit as a potential suspect, he backed up Mendelblit when the latter compromised with Netanyahu. Later, when Nitzan’s retirement approached, he spread his wings and recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in the three cases. Mendelblit only adopted a portion of his recommendations in Case 4000, in which Benjamin Netanyahu has been charged with crafting policy favorable to the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for positive coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla news website.

And so the claim by the Netanyahu cult that this is clear proof Nitzan extorted Mendelblit in order to topple the prime minister, who is hated by the judicial elite, and all to pave his way to the Supreme Court, is about as credible and serious as the claim that the coronavirus is a slight flu. The truth that the members of the cult refuse to digest is that Mendelblit and Nitzan gave Netanyahu discounts all along: from the irregular announcement that Netanyahu was not a suspect in the submarine purchase affair at the beginning of the investigation, to the delay in launching an investigation in Case 4000, to the dissolving of the stocks case, in which police had information going back to 2017, a long time before the statute of limitations clock began to tick.

Shai Nitzan (left) and Avichai Mendelblit at a farewell event for former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Jerusalem, June 4, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Mendelblit, who came to his post thanks to Netanyahu, and who is inherently suspicious of the police investigations division and the state prosecution, changed his attitude completely toward them, and particularly toward the prime minister. In fact, he crossed the Rubicon only in early 2018, when for the first time the introductory chapters of Case 4000 were revealed: the pointed correspondence between Bezeq’s Shaul Elovitch and Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua and the testimony by one-time Netanyahu loyalist Shlomo Filber and senior officials in the Communications Ministry. They all told a damning story about a regulator who had taken over a media outlet in exchange for government favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels. Mendelblit, who is still amazed at Netanyahu’s phenomenal abilities, realized only then that he was dealing with a man tainted by deep corruption.

These facts changed nothing for the political and media cult: They continued to echo the conspiracy theory born in the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street. In their delusion, the state prosecutor, loyal to the system and his bosses, was in fact an octopus who had trapped the attorney general in his tentacles, pointed a gun to his head and forced him to lie to himself and issue an indictment that he doesn’t believe in against the modern-day Dreyfus. The members of the cult continued marshaling the defense mechanism known as projection: They would depict the law enforcement as a crime organization, while acting like one themselves.

The person who most clearly expresses the Mafioso culture that has taken over here, coalition whip MK Miki Zohar, threatened Mendelblit on Wednesday that if he did not close the cases against Netanyahu and resign, more tapes will come to light. A reasonable law enforcement system would have launched an investigation against Zohar only hours later. The investigation would be brief, the indictment easy and conviction certain against this wild weed of government. But Netanyahu’s war machine has already achieved the cooling effect: The prosecution is headed by people who are on the defensive most of the day, who fearfully anticipate the next blow that will fall, who obsessively follow the fishing expedition against them even on esoteric websites.

Nave, who acts like a wounded animal, told a few people that he has more tapes of Mendelblit, more damaging than the first, and that meanwhile he is keeping them under wraps. It’s possible that some of them contain Mendelblit’s hesitant opinion, 2017 style, about the people he works with, as well as about the cases against Netanyahu. The question is how long will he hold out. On Wednesday, the first shot was fired.

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