Editorial

An Attorney General Who's on the Wrong Side of the Law

Avichai Mendelblit’s new guidelines for investigating public figures undermine the fight against corruption

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, December 27, 2015.
Marc Israel Sellem

The attorney general’s guidelines for the investigation of senior public officials — stipulating that an examination be held first and an investigation, if any, only afterward  — strengthens the suspicion that Avichai Mendelblit is trying to appease government officials.

Mendelblit gave his reason for holding a preliminary examination by saying that an investigation, “is a wide-ranging step with wide-ranging impact on the person’s area of responsibility.” This reason could easily be used as a pretext for avoiding the questioning of senior officials in almost any circumstances. The argument that this guideline actually reflects a stricter approach toward public figures is not convincing, since one can always claim that the information obtained was insufficient to establish a reasonable suspicion of the commission of a criminal offense.

The attorney general’s handling, for example, of Case 2000, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly discussed exchanging favors, proves the opposite — that the examination makes it easier for senior officials, not harder. The originator of this policy, former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who buried the graft case against Avigdor Lieberman, adds to the concern.

Nor is it clear why investigative procedures such as searches, staged confrontations, electronic surveillance and polygraphs are prohibited during the preliminary examination, especially in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime. Conducting an examination while tying the hands of the examiners is a gift to the suspect, because it gives him a chance to prepare for the investigation, or even to obstruct it. But information about such attempts will not be discovered, as a result of the prohibition against wiretapping.

The message conveyed by these guidelines is threefold. The first is that suspicions against senior officials are assumed to be unreliable, so it doesn’t pay to put effort into gathering intelligence against the officials finding information against them. Second, there is no equality under the law, with senior officials getting special treatment. Third, that foot-dragging, rather than tough and determined efforts, is the behavioral code for law enforcement.

The person meant to lead the campaign against government corruption is actually coming down on the side of the corrupt, severely undermining the fight. It cannot be ignored that, by deciding not to decide on the cases of the benefits allegedly received by Netanyahu and his family until all the other investigations against him are completed, the attorney general handed the prime minister a gift whose political and public value was priceless. This is added to the serious and unjustified denial of the public’s right to know, in the run-up to an election, whether there is anything to the serious allegations against the prime minister.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.