And Israel's Attorney General Remains Silent

Avichai Mendelblit acts as if he’s fending for Netanyahu both in the offices of criminal investigation and on the street outside the PM’s Residence

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avichai Mendelblit, 2015.
Marc Israel Sellem

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit earned the public protest that has been directed his way. The way he has been conducting himself in the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes directly from his predecessor Yehuda Weinstein’s manual on how to kill cases involving public figures: by endlessly dragging the cases out, requesting depositions around the world, seeking more and more professional opinions, and, most importantly, keeping investigators on a short leash so they don’t suddenly run wild with creative investigatory work.

It worked well for Weinstein in the case involving Avidgor Lieberman, and there’s no reason it won’t work for Mendelblit. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court (Justice Meni Mazuz) was right in backing the police’s stance that demonstrations in front of Mendelblit’s home should not be permitted. It wasn’t a particularly difficult ruling as it reflected decades of practice in Israel and the Western world.

Anyone prepared to justify demonstrations in front of Mendelblit’s house needs to explain why extreme right-wing activists were barred from protesting in front of the home of Noam Tibon, commander of the army’s Judea and Samaria division, and the home of Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh when he was head of Central Command, and of Israel Weiss when he was chief military rabbi.

The reason protesters congregate in front of their target’s homes is to disrupt the little bit of life these officials still have left after work. It’s designed to aggravate the neighbors, to hurt the children and lead spouses to exclaim: “What do you need this for?”

In the case of the attorney general, (unlike with IDF major generals, for whom demonstrations in front of the Defense Ministry would barely come to their attention), there is an effective alternative. There is no reason demonstrators can’t stage protests against Mendelblit in front of the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem. Although truth be told, there is a reason. It’s less convenient demonstrating in East Jerusalem, where the Justice Ministry is located, and clearly when they protest there, Mendelblit will hardly hear them. In any event, the message can be conveyed without creating a chilling effect on an entire family.

And beyond all that, the way police conduct themselves in such circumstances is problematic, to put it mildly. There is no reason these small demonstrations should end in arrests and hospital admissions. There is no justification for the repeated arrest of Meni Naftali, the former employee of the Prime Minister’s Residence. There is no way to explain why a person standing with a sign in his hand needs to be detained overnight. The person who arrested him and even tried to couch his behavior as interfering with the work of a law enforcement officer should have had his police ID taken away the following morning.

The police and the prosecution can indict anyone who demonstrates without a permit and in violation of police instructions. It’s reasonable to take such people to the police station, take their statement taken and then release them. But there’s a major difference between that and shackling someone with handcuffs and ankle restraints, using massive force and throwing them in jail.

In the Israel Police, such phenomena are common. It’s even hard to prove here that the police are trying to ingratiate themselves with the attorney general. Baseless arrests and excessive violence are almost an Israel Police trademark. And the conduct of the prosecution here is even a bit more suspicious.

There’s a slightly hackneyed story about demonstrations near the home of Prime Minister Menachem Begin during the first Lebanon War. Ministers in his government and senior members of his staff wanted to ask police to evict a protest vigil that was making the prime minister’s life miserable at a time when he was already suffering. According to the ministers and staffers, Begin barred them from making the request, saying it was the protesters’ right to demonstrate.

Mendelblit is not Begin. He’s not an elected official and certainly not the prime minister, but it still would have been fitting to hear his public statement on this whole story. It is precisely Mendelblit who could have pointed the way for the police, if he had only said: “Thanks for enforcing the law, but there’s no reason someone should end an evening protest in jail or in the hospital.”