Opinion

You Are Wrong, Attorney General

The fear that Avichai Mendelblit will seek to protect the prime minster who appointed him does not add to the public’s faith in his decisions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens to cabinet secretary Avichai Mendelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Nov. 16, 2014.
Gali Tibbon, AP

The objection by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to the police taking testimony from John Kerry and Dan Shapiro (Gidi Weitz, February 24) directly undermines Case 1000, the investigation into suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family received favors from wealthy patrons worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Netanyahu is suspected of asking Kerry and Shapiro, who were respectively the United States Secretary of State and Ambassador to Israel, to intervene so that the American government would change is position on Israeli businessman Arnon Milchan (who regularly gave the Netanyahus gifts) and grant him a 10-year visa. Netanyahu confirms that he “in general asked senior American officials to arrange the visa for Michan.” Thus, explains a judicial source regarding Mendelblit’s position, “there is no real need to take the depositions.”

Why is this claim so wrong? First, the evidence regarding the question of what Milchan gained from his relationship with Netanyahu is critical. It will determine whether Netanyahu committed fraud or some other, lesser offense. Second, it is not only proper to investigate the appeal itself to the U.S. officials regarding Milchan, but also all the circumstances.

To what extent did Netanyahu try on behalf of his regular provider? How many times did he ask? Who did he ask? Were the requests a matter of routine or an exceptional step? What did the recipients do with the request? Did Netanyahu make other requests, and if so, on whose behalf? How many requests for a visa extension did the secretary of state receive directly from Israel’s prime minister? Did Netanyahu describe the request as urgent? What was the mood at the time it was raised? Indeed, the mood can indicate the psychological foundation of the alleged offense of which he is suspected – and so on.

The claim that there is no need to investigate Kerry and Shapiro because Netanyahu “admitted” that he asked them is insufficient, because Netanyahu’s confession does not answer any of the above questions. Likewise, lacking any questioning of the two, Netanyahu will be able to retroactively add details in describing those requests to soften them. Without questioning the witnesses it will be impossible to refute his version.

Mendelblit also claimed, according to Weitz’s report, “that taking testimony from senior people in the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who had tense relations with Netanyahu, was very sensitive and might not even be necessary for building a case.” This claim doesn’t hold water. Does the attorney general fear that these witnesses will not be exact in their testimony because of those “tense relations”? Even if there is a basis for this concern – and I don’t think there is – will the AG not know enough given the string of evidence before him to give their testimony the proper weight?

And is this not ultimately the court’s role? Is the solution to something “sensitive” not to take testimony and to hide part of the evidentiary picture from the public, the prosecution and the court?

I think Mendelblit would do well to distance himself from any involvement in professional decisions of the police in everything related to investigating Netanyahu, particularly the decision regarding who to investigate. The fear that the attorney general will seek to protect the prime minster who appointed him – when it is still fresh in our memories that the head of the search committee that recommended Mendelblit, former Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis, did not support his appointment out of fear that such a move would lead to a conflict of interests – does not add to the public’s faith in his decisions, and a decision like this one regarding Kerry and Shapiro is liable to lessen that faith even further.

The writer, a former prosecutor in an investigation against Netanyahu in the 1990s, is president of the New Israel Fund.