Editorial

Israel's Attorney General Must Decide Now on Netanyahu

If Avichai Mendelblit tarries, he’ll simply continue to let the prime minister use his political power to fight the corruption allegations against him

FILE Photo: Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mark Israel Salem

In response to the decision by the parties in the governing coalition to dissolve the Knesset and hold a general election, the Justice Ministry said about the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “The work process on the cases will continue as planned. At issue is an orderly and professional work plan independent of political events.”

This is a very problematic message, to say the least. If Netanyahu is dragging a whole country into an early election in the hope of preceding the attorney general’s decision on the corruption investigations, then Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s decision to continue the process as if there were no election is tantamount to burying his head in the sand.

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The attorney general’s guidelines for prosecution and enforcement policy during a pre-election period call for handling cases involving public figures “without delay.” They urge caution about “taking exceptional actions that might raise concerns about political repercussions.”

There’s no question that cases involving public figures require caution regarding political repercussions. But this demand loses its validity given the knowledge that Netanyahu has tied the country’s fate to his legal fate and hasn’t shunned any measure to fight his legal battle, including unbridled attacks on law enforcement. Now he’s even dismantling the government and moving up the election from the November deadline.

Netanyahu is using his power and political standing to fight the suspicions against him. He’s the one who has stained the “work process” and painted the investigations against him in political colors in an effort to undermine their legitimacy.

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Whatever the attorney general decides will obviously have a dramatic influence on the election. But putting off a decision until after the vote would be intolerable. Only a month ago, Netanyahu didn’t hesitate to scare the public regarding Israel’s security situation. “Sacrifice will be demanded of all of us,” he said, a way to keep Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party in the coalition and prevent the government from falling.

Yet now, after the time frame for indicting him accelerated, he hasn’t hesitated to drag the country into an early election. This is far graver than any “political repercussions” Mendelblit’s decision might have. Instead of drawing boundaries for the legal system, Mendelblit should draw boundaries for Netanyahu regarding what’s permitted and what’s forbidden in his legal battles.

The country can no longer tolerate such serious doubts about the prime minister’s innocence. Marathon meetings and round-the-clock work is no longer enough; Mendelblit must decide before the election whether the prime minister will be charged. The people are entitled to know whom they’re voting for.

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