Opinion

Then, Israel's Attorney General Was Thrown in Jail

Former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan had read about Stalin’s purges, but couldn't believe his turn had come

Aluf Benn
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Shai Nitzan (left) and Avichai Mendelblit at a farewell event for former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Jerusalem, June 4, 2019.
Shai Nitzan (left) and Avichai Mendelblit at a farewell event for former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Jerusalem, June 4, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman
Aluf Benn

The first to be arrested was Shai Nitzan. The police came to his home in Jerusalem at 5 A.M., accompanied by television crews, and spoke to him aggressively: “Come with us, Mr. Nitzan.”

“There must be some mistake,” the former state prosecutor said, in a well-known refrain from movies and TV series. “No,” the superintendent said, “you’re Shai Nitzan, ID number so and so? Then move it and get in the van.” And he locked the handcuff around the suspect’s right wrist.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Credit: Haaretz

Channel 12 news opened with a live broadcast of the arrest, under the logo “Investigating the investigators.” “The state has regained control of the legal system,” anchorwoman Yonit Levi explained, with Justice Minister Amir Ohana, in his blue suit, smiling beside her. “We’ll hand over to you in a moment, Mr. Minister, but first, an update from the Russian Compound police station.”

At the station, a police officer read Nitzan his rights. “I’m about to charge you with sedition under Article 133 of the Penal Code,” he began. “I’m familiar with that article,” Nitzan said, swallowing a smile.

But there was no flicker of response in the chief investigator’s face. “Listen until the end,” he said drily. “You aren’t obligated to say anything, but anything you say will be recorded and may be used as evidence against you during your trial.”

Nitzan couldn’t believe this was happening to him. He had read about Stalin’s purges, but he had never thought he could himself be purged.

He of all people, the most loyal and security-conscious of them all, who represented the state in the most difficult cases, who was the first to justify infringements on human rights, is now being denounced as a traitor? It never occurred to him that he would see a detention cell from the inside, with the key in someone else’s hand.

Meanwhile, the investigators rounded up his co-conspirators – prosecutor Liat Ben Ari, former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, senior police officers Meni Yitzhaki and Coresh Barnoor. Aside from sedition, the suspects could also face charges of leaking information under Articles 117 and 119, obstructing an investigation under Article 245, illegal organizing under Article 145 and illegal assembly under Article 151. The basis for all these suspicions was their work on drafting the indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Brig. Gen. Barnoor was also suspected of “insulting a public servant” due to the way he spoke to Netanyahu during his interrogations. “Coresh,” his former subordinates told him, “you know that what comes around, goes around.”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was arrested at his home in Petah Tikva. His friends from Rabbi Ashlag’s kabbala study group were brought to his cell to convince him to turn state’s evidence.

“After all, you’re one of us,” they told him. “You’re not part of that gang of Jerusalemite snobs who controlled the prosecution. And you did good in the submarines case. Come on, blow them off. Tell them about how Nitzan and Ben Ari dictated that libelous indictment against Netanyahu to you. Sign here and you can go home.”

Reporter Moshe Nussbaum turned the broadcast back over to the studio. “Mr. Justice Minister, what led to this operation? Can you tell us?”

“Look, Yonit, the prime minister said on November 21, when the indictments against him were made public, that this is a coup and we need to investigate the investigators. We won the election, and with us, a promise is a promise.” “Stay with us, Mr. Minister; Amit Segal is here with an update.”

“Yes, Yonit, here are the main points of this legal operation. Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu will get compensation from the state. Their criminal records will be erased. The men who turned state’s evidence against the prime minister – Ari Harow, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz – will be rearrested and indicted on serious charges. The case against Shaul Elovitch will be closed. And a stay of proceedings will be offered Arnon Mozes if he gives up control of Yedioth Ahronoth.”

“Thanks, Amit. Indeed, there’s been a major drama today. We’ll return after our commercial break.”

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