The term of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, which ends Monday, was replete with dramatic challenges, the height of them being the prosecution of the prime minister. Mendelblit was pushed into his post for personal reasons by Benjamin Netanyahu. A jurist close to senior politicians is considered someone who cannot demonstrate the independence and fortitude required of an attorney general. However, even though on many occasions he met the “expectations” of the person who appointed him, on other occasions he stood up to the powers-that-be in a manner commanding respect.
As the person responsible for giving legal advice to the executive branch of government and as the state’s chief law enforcer, Mendelblit often demonstrated a soft approach that increased the chaos of governance. But he also knew how to stand up to powerful and shameless right-wing figures who tried to undermine the operation of legal advisers in government ministries.
In the area of defense, Mendelblit enabled the government to realize its discriminatory policy against the Palestinians. A straight line connects this approach and the gangs of Jewish thugs now roaming unhindered in Palestinian villages. In the area of human rights, Mendelblit allowed the passage of the nation-state law, which anchors in law Jewish superiority and Arab inferiority. He even defended this law in the High Court of Justice. But at the same time, he objected to another law that was aimed at robbing Palestinians of their land.
The enforcement of criminal law saw a setback during his tenure, both in terms of fighting violent and organized crime and in terms of combating government corruption. Until the establishment of the current government, the attorney general did not devote the required attention to murders in Arab communities and to the weakening of law enforcement in Israel’s outlying areas.
Mendelblit’s term will be remembered foremost in the context of the fight against corruption. His position whereby there was no obstacle to asking Netanyahu to form a government after he was indicted, and that there was no reason for Netanyahu to step down despite the war he waged against the country’s courts, brought upon Mendelblit scathing criticism from Netanyahu’s opponents. The string of plea bargains he signed at the end of his term with lawmakers and former cabinet members also broadcast weakness vis-à-vis the powerful. A plea bargain with Netanyahu was apparently avoided at the very last minute.
In the annals of history, Mendelblit will go down as the first Israeli attorney general to indict a sitting prime minister. Although he did all he could to squeeze and slash the charge sheet, when he finally made the decision to prosecute, he was not deterred by the vicious incitement against him by Netanyahu and his many followers. The fact that he withstood pressure against him from the country’s highest echelons and much of the public without breaking should not be taken lightly.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.