Mendelblit’s Vital Warning

A person’s guilt or innocence isn’t determined in the polling booth

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the Bar-Ilan University law faculty in Ramat Gan, on November 28, 2018.
Meged Gozani

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s words Monday at an event in Upper Nazareth are of utmost importance. They remind Israelis of something that until recently was obvious: A person’s guilt or innocence isn’t determined in the polling booth. Since the election a significant part of the public seems to believe that the vote’s outcome will render the legal proceedings against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu superfluous because Israelis decided in the electoral process that Netanyahu is innocent.

Mendelblit sought to undermine this dangerous feeling and the conclusion that presumably derives from it  — that Netanyahu shouldn’t be tried because he was reelected despite the corruption proceedings against him. “I will say what is clear to me: The criminal process does not overlap with the electoral process. It is also not influenced by it,” Mendelblit said.

Later he even cited a ruling by a panel of five justices headed by a former Supreme Court president, Meir Shamgar: “The judgment of the voter is not a substitute for the judgment of the law, and cannot replace it.”

Mendelblit also referred to the attempts to erode the legitimacy of the judicial and law enforcement system during the election campaign, explaining the danger in such attempts and procedures that would curb the legal system’s authority; these attempts are being planned by the governing coalition now being formed. This danger goes far beyond the prime minister’s future and affects every citizen in the country.

“It means weakening the defense of civil rights, especially for the poor,” Mendelblit said. “It means weakening the ability to prevent the exploitation of government power. It means weakening the protection of public assets.”

Mendelblit’s convincing words were said a day after he announced that Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing would be held by July 10, and that if the prime minister forgoes a hearing, Mendelblit will submit the suspicions as an indictment. It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of his words.

At the moment, the public discussion about Netanyahu’s cases ranges from the possibility that the prime minister will continue to serve even if he’s indicted, to the possibility of legislation that would keep him out of the dock. Also, the prime minister is conducting a campaign on his Facebook page that would grant him immunity, and his Likud colleagues and his natural partners for the coalition are volunteering to make laws tailored for Netanyahu, while candidates for justice minister are vying over who would do more to emasculate the justice system.

At such a time, Mendelblit did the right thing by reminding the public about the importance of a strong and independent judicial system, as well as about the seminal principle of the rule of law: No one is above the law.

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