Retired Supreme Court Justice Joins Netanyahu’s Call to Delay Indictment to After the Elections

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is widely expected to refuse Netanyahu’s request

Lawyers Navot Tel-Zur and Tal Shapira at the entrance to a meeting on Monday 21, 2019.
אוליבייה פיטוסי

A retired Supreme Court justice has backed Benjamin Netanyahu’s position that the attorney general shouldn’t announce his decision on cases against the prime minister until after the April 9 election, lawyers for Netanyahu said Monday.

The lawyers said Jacob Turkel had written a letter to this effect that they gave Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at their meeting with him Monday. In a written statement, the lawyer said they were “striving to ensure a fair game for the prime minister, who is facing an election.”

The lawyers met with Mendelblit and members of his staff to ask him to delay publicizing his decision in the cases. In addition to Turkel’s letter, they submitted support for this demand from two former district court judges who also attended the meeting. Joseph Elon is a former president of the Be’er Sheva District Court, while Oded Mudrik is a former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court.

On Mendelblit’s side, the meeting was attended by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, but not by the prosecutor in charge of the cases, Liat Ben Ari, or any of her staff.

>> Mendelblit, decide before the election | Editorial

The meeting took place in Mendelblit’s office and lasted for two and a half hours. Afterward, Mendelblit issued a statement saying he would make a decision within the next few days and inform Netanyahu’s lawyers. However, he is widely expected to refuse Netanyahu’s request.

Several other former Supreme Court justices and former senior Justice Ministry officials argued at a recent meeting with Mendelblit that he should announce his decision before the election. The proponents of this view include two former state prosecutors, Moshe Lador and Eran Shendar, as well as former Deputy State Prosecutor Yehoshua Lemberger.

Last week, Mendelblit’s aide, Gil Limon, told Netanyahu’s lawyers that the investigations into the prime minister won’t be affected by the election, but that Mendelblit was willing to meet with them to allow them to explain at greater length why they think he should postpone his decision. However, Limon stressed that the meeting would deal only with the timing of Mendelblit’s decision, not the substance of the cases.

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In their letter to Mendelblit seeking the meeting, Navot Tel Zur, Tal Shapira, Amit Hadad and Mudrik complained that the attorney general had accelerated his handling of the cases so as to make a decision before the election. Though it has always been the policy of the Attorney General’s Office that cases against public officials shouldn’t be put on hold during election campaigns, they wrote, they found it very surprising that a decision on the most recent of the three cases — the Bezeq-Walla case, also known as Case 4000 — could be ready just a few months after police recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery in it.

If Mendelblit decides to close the cases, the lawyers said, this should be announced before the election. But if he decides to indict, he shouldn’t announce it, they argued, because a decision to indict isn’t final until the attorney general holds a hearing for the suspect, and there will be no time for that hearing to take place before the election.

Consequently, they wrote, any decision to indict “is an inoperative interim decision that doesn’t alter a person’s status and could change completely following the actual hearing.” Moreover, they argued, hearings have led to cases being closed many times before, so announcing a decision to indict without there being time to hold the hearing could amount to “misleading the public and intervening in the election” by making the public think the decision to indict was final.

“For many voters, this is likely to be a decisive consideration in voting, so you have influence over the election results even if that isn’t your intention,” they added.