Editorial

Israel’s Attorney General Better Not Let Netanyahu Fool Him

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at Bar-Ilan University, March 2019.
Nir Keidar

In late February, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced his decision to put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing. The attorney general gave Netanyahu’s lawyers 90 days to study the evidence ahead of the hearing, and for good reason. Mendelblit knows the investigative material from up close, as well as its scope, so he’s in a good position to assess how much time is needed to study it.

Mendelblit innocently agreed that those 90 days would begin the day after the April 9 general election, following the claim by Netanyahu’s lawyers that a leak of the evidence before the election could affect public opinion. Thus the attorney general said the hearing would be held by July 10.

At one stage, it looked that Mendelblit was becoming immune to the shenanigans of Netanyahu and his lawyers, and that he would refuse more delays in enforcing the country’s criminal law against the prime minister. His attorneys’ demands to receive extra time to study the material, and their crocodile tears about its scope – even before they agreed to start looking at it – elicited stern responses from the attorney general, who insisted that the hearing’s date would remain as is.

>> Benny Gantz’s party must ambush the attorney general in his office | Opinion ■ Enabling Netanyahu's government could be bribe-taking | Analysis

But now one of Netanyahu’s lawyers, Amit Hadad, has submitted a request in the prime minister’s name to postpone the hearing by at least a year.

Don’t be fooled, Mendelblit. Netanyahu has a political agenda. He seeks a delay in the hearing and the decision whether to try him until he has enough time to arrange immunity for himself with a little help from his new coalition partners. He also wants a so-called override clause to prevent the Supreme Court from interfering with an illegal decision by the Knesset to block an indictment of the prime minister. Netanyahu’s refusal to pay his lawyers (supposedly while waiting for the state comptroller’s permits committee to approve funds from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky to cover the fees) is part of this strategy, as is the fresh request for a postponement.

Netanyahu has the right to a hearing before a final decision is made about indicting him, but he has no authority to dictate the timetable to the law enforcement system. The hearing should be held on the date that Mendelblit set. The attorney general should present Netanyahu and his lawyers with a fait accompli: If you like, come to the hearing. If not, it will be ruled that the prime minister has yielded his right and the draft indictment will turn into an indictment.