Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday protested the attorney general for refusing to delay a pre-indictment hearing, saying that by rushing the process the top legal authority was denying him the ability to get a fair chance to defend himself.
Netanyahu had attempted to have the meeting pushed off because of fresh elections, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier Thursday dismissed the country’s political instability as a reason to delay the pre-indictment hearing in the three corruption cases against the prime minister.
Netanyahu said it was “inconceivable” that the “unclear” rush to hold the pre-indictment hearing was given priority over “the need to reach the truth.”
“The repeated elections, which were forced in an unprecedented manner, are an exceptional event that requires exceptional attention on the part of the law enforcement authorities regarding the date of the hearing,” Netanyahu said in a statement on his behalf from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Israelis will go back to the polls on September 17, after Netanyahu failed to reach an agreement to form a coalition after the April 9 election.
Last month, the attorney general agreed to postpone the hearing — originally scheduled for July 10 — to early October. Netanyahu’s lawyers had asked for a full-year delay, arguing that the volume of evidence was too large to review in three months, but that request was rejected.
Netanyahu claimed Thursday that in another case involving a judge accused of planning and building offenses, a hearing had been pushed off for two years.
“In the case of three cases against the prime minister during an election period, they refuse to postpone even a few months,” he complained.
However, the Justice Ministry said in a statement that the judge in question was given a hearing a month after being summoned to attend one, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Mandelblit’s refusal to delay the hearing Thursday was expected. The Ynet news site reported Wednesday that the premier was already preparing to petition the High Court in response.
Netanyahu’s attorneys must notify the attorney general’s office by June 10 if he intends to move forward with the hearing. If Netanyahu chooses not to go through with a hearing, during which he would have the chance to persuade Mandelblit not to prosecute him, Mandelblit could file indictments in the prime minister’s criminal probes within days or weeks.
Netanyahu is widely reported to have tried to build a coalition after April 9’s election in which his Likud MKs and their allies would initiate or back legislative efforts to enable him to avoid prosecution — first by easing his path to gaining immunity via the Knesset, and then by canceling the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn such immunity.
The latter change would be achieved as part of a wide-ranging reform of the Supreme Court’s role, under which justices would be denied their current authority to strike down legislation, and Knesset and government decisions, deemed unconstitutional. Plans for this “override” legislation have been described as marking a potential constitutional revolution that critics warn could shatter the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy.
Last month, as Netanyahu struggled to cobble together a majority coalition, his associates were said to have warned him that snap elections would likely deny him the time needed to pass legislation shielding him from prosecution.
Nonetheless, when he concluded that he could not muster a majority by the May 29 deadline for presenting his coalition to the Knesset, he pushed through a vote to disperse the 21st Knesset, which had only been sworn in a month earlier, and set Israel on the path to new elections on September 17. He chose that course rather than allow for a different Knesset member, possibly opposition leader Benny Gantz, to have a turn at trying to build a majority coalition.
Mandeblit announced in February that he intends to charge Netanyahu, pending a hearing, with fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, as well as with bribery in one of them.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him, and has claimed they stem from a witch hunt supported by the left-wing opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution, headed by a “weak” attorney general.