Analysis

Israel's AG Must Not Be Bullied and Decide on Netanyahu Indictments Before Elections

Reports that Mendelblit fears meddling accusations are troubling, but most of the public will stand behind him if he can withstand attacks from Netanyahu's loyalists

FILE Photo: Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Olivier Fitoussi

After early elections were called, it was reported that the attorney general feared that issuing his decision on whether to indict the prime minister before or shortly after the vote would be seen as interfering with the political process.

From media briefings held by Avichai Mendelblit’s office before the April 9 election date was set, it’s clear that the decision can and must be issued by the end of March.

That conclusion gains additional support when one notes the comprehensive work done by the prosecution, which included an examination of Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims and the attorney general’s involvement in the investigations. Mendelblit has a duty to the public. It is inconceivable for voters to go to the polls without knowing the attorney general’s response to the evidence collected and the recommendations of the prosecution.

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A team from the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office for Taxation and Economics attributed to Netanyahu the offense of accepting bribes in the two cases involving the media and telecommunications (the Yedioth Ahronoth and the Bezeq-Walla cases), and at least one count of breach of trust (and possibly accepting a bribe) in a third investigation, involving the receipt of expensive gifts from businessmen.

The attorney general’s decision is relevant for all but the most loyal Netanyahu supporters. The investigations have gone on for far too long, in part as a result of the long delays in launching the investigations in the first place. Any additional delay is intolerable.

It’s difficult to believe that Mendelblit actually expressed concern about the possible appearance of his interference in the election, and if he did then that is worrying indeed. Surely he recognizes that short of adopting Netanyahu’s version – “there will be nothing because there is nothing” – any decision he makes will lead to interminable, unsupported and damaging accusations. If the attorney general believes his record of a good working relationship with the prime minister, including a stint as the cabinet secretary, will protect him, he is laboring under an illusion. When a man is fighting for his life, he will quail at nothing.

Remarks by coalition whip MK David Amsalem promising mass protests and a report in Israel Hayom saying that if Mendelblit does decide to indict Netanyahu before the election, the attorney general can expect a merciless attack by senior Likud officials, leave no room for doubt. If Mendelblit takes his apprehensions about such accusations into account, the upshot would be that the attorney general gives in to bullying and grinds the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law under his heel.

If the police were to calculate in advance the effect a thorough investigation into suspicions against Netanyahu would have on his public positions, if they were to anticipate unbridled attacks on the force and accusations of conducting a witch hunt against the prime minister for political ends, they might have avoided opening the investigation. The attorney general must be ready to withstand attacks of an unprecedented scale. Any display of weakness, of showing special consideration for the prime minister, will only stoke the appetite of the predators.

There’s never a good time for this kind of decision, no way to synchronize the judicial and the political calendars. There’s no end to speculating about what might help or hinder Netanyahu in the election.

The Likud figures quoted in Israel Hayom presumably believe a decision to indict before the election would hurt Netanyahu, but given the current state of the election campaign, it could be spun to his favor. Mendelblit has said that he avoids political calculations. He must cleave to this stance and meet his duties to the public and to the democratic process. If he can achieve this, the majority of the public will stand behind him and the institution he heads, whose independence and professionalism are of incalculable importance. To do so, the attorney general must put aside his worries, justified as they are.