Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s ruling finding no legal barrier to Benjamin Netanyahu’s forming the next government was reasonable and germane, but above all strategic. With it, he delicately charted a course for the High Court of Justice, and it’s not preposterous to think the court will be happy to adopt it.
In his brief, Mendelblit invited the court not to disqualify Netanyahu – thus playing into the prime minister’s hands by portraying him as the persecuted victim of a judiciary that searches for pretexts to harass him at every step ridiculous – but rather to treat him as a defendant whose case must first be decided in court before it will affect his political future.
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Nevertheless, we shouldn’t ignore the harsh words the attorney general used about the prime minister, his former benefactor: “Granting the task of forming a government to a Knesset member when a decision has been made to indict him on serious ethics-related charges, as well as his heading the government, indeed creates significant difficulties on several levels. ... The indictment submitted against [Netanyahu] is extremely serious, charging him with the crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he committed, prime facie, while serving as prime minister of Israel.”
Like an acrobat on a tightrope, Mendelblit is trying to avoid a severe conflict between his two roles. After all, he’s the one who filed the indictments against Netanyahu, and he’s the one who will face the test of his life in the courtroom when the prime minister sits in the dock. And he wants to arrive there with his hands clean.
Fans of Netanyahu’s son Yair are unlikely to be impressed by the appearance the attorney general is trying to present. They’ll continue to sling copious amounts of mud at him and all the other officials. But even in the lawless world in which we live, Mendelblit’s pretense has sense and logic. Perhaps there are people somewhere in the Israeli right who are still willing to make such distinctions.
Mendelblit also invited the High Court to annul specific provisions of the coalition deal, though he refrained from explicitly recommending that the entire agreement be disqualified. “At the present time, there are no grounds for disqualifying the coalition agreement as a whole, at the stage we’re currently in,” he wrote.
But his invitation with regard to certain provisions can be discerned in the following harsh words: “The deal ... includes an agreement to make significant constitutional changes, including creating a new governmental model that is unnatural for Israel’s system of government.”
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The cautious, tortuous path Mendelblit is walking, which the High Court justices will presumably follow, won’t satisfy anyone on either side. It will appease neither the Bibi fanatics – whose hatred of the judicial establishment borders on insanity and will continue to do so no matter what happens, other than perhaps his complete retroactive acquittal – nor the Netanyahu-haters, who seek, via that same system, to hasten the ouster of the man they so loath.
The High Court has given the latter several sops over the last few days – for instance, by freezing the appointment of the latest red flag from Netanyahu’s sewing factory, Acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad. The court’s other “gifts” to the left, which is evidently characterized by its greater mass of “anyone but Bibi” voters, include overturning a law requiring asylum seekers to deposit 20 percent of their salaries and nixing a decision to bar people from bringing food that is not kosher for Passover into Israeli hospitals during the weeklong holiday. But will any of this ease their impassioned grief on the day the court fails to fulfill their heart’s desire?
Mendelblit, who for years dragged his feet on submitting the indictments because his stomach rebelled, is currently embroiled in a thuggish fight with Eldad, the acting state prosecutor. And the entire right is harping on the battered remains of the Harpaz affair, which no longer interests anyone except its participants (it’s highly unlikely that the Bibi fans who keep brandishing the “tape” that’s under a gag order are even familiar with its broader context, beyond the mud it allows them to sling at the person who submitted the indictments against Netanyahu).
Right now, Mendelblit is preparing for the trial. That’s the big target on the wall. Anything else is a footnote.