In an official response Wednesday to a petition to the High Court of Justice, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he had nothing to do with the so-called Israel Hayom bill in his previous position as cabinet secretary. Therefore there were no grounds for barring him from involvement in the criminal investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ties with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, Mendelblit said.
Mendelblit was responding to a petition filed by political activist Eldad Yaniv in late January.
In the petition, Yaniv argued that as cabinet secretary, a post he held until February 2016, Mendelblit “must have been actively and intensively involved in cabinet deliberations on the bill and on implementing the decisions that were made.”
The Israel Hayom bill would have prohibited the wide distribution of a full-sized newspaper for free. Its formal name was the “law for the advancement and protection of written journalism in Israel,” but it earned its nickname by targeting the free daily owned by U.S. casino magnate and Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson. The paper is often seen as the prime minister’s mouthpiece.
The Israel Hayom bill is at the center of a police investigation into allegations that Netanyahu and Mozes held talks toward a deal in which Yedioth Ahronoth would give the prime minister favorable coverage in return for measures to curb the daily’s main rival, Israel Hayom.
Responding to the court on behalf of Mendelblit, the state said the attorney general “did not make decisions regarding the Israel Hayom bill, or act among MKs or ministers to advance or block the bill.”
The state also said that in the course of the investigation there was some fear of Mendelblit’s involvement in “another context,” unrelated to the Israel Hayom bill. The decision on this matter was made by the state prosecutor, who concluded that it had no impact on Mendelblit’s handling the investigation. Deputy Attorney General (Counseling) Dina Zilber, whose duties include preventing conflicts of interests for state employeess, agreed with the assessment, the state said.
The state noted that the cabinet secretary is a professional position, and there is no conflict of interests between it and the position of attorney general. It added that not only is there no legal impediment to Mendelblit’s involvement in the prime minister’s investigations, but the Basic Law on the Government specifically bars the attorney general from avoiding such involvement.
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