AG decries attacks on media, in veiled criticism of Netanyahu

Mandelblit, who is overseeing investigations of prime minister, says law enforcement is under threat

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit lambasted attacks against the media on Monday, comparing its role to that of law enforcement, which he said was also under threat, amid a series of high-profile investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at a conference organized by Hadashot TV news, Mandelblit said, “A free press is an essential component of a democratic society and it is of utmost importance to protect and guard it.”

He added that the role of the media was similar to that of the police and law enforcement.

“One can say there is a comparison between the world of media and the world of law enforcement,” he said. “With regard to both, it is obvious that independence of the constituent bodies is more important than anything else.

“The necessity of an independent media is reinforced when it deals with the most sensitive issues of society and government in the State of Israel and exposes them,” he added. “Then the independence of the media is tested and often challenged. Similarly, there are currently parties trying to challenge the independence of the law enforcement system or even to destroy it.”

Netanyahu is currently under investigation for corruption in three separate cases, and lawmakers close to him have launched attacks on the press and police, proposing legislation to limit their ability to report on or investigate public figures, respectively.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Lithuanian counterpart address a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on August 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Petras Malukas)

In two cases, 1000 and 2000, police have already recommended bribery indictments against the prime minister.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors. Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu is also suspected of advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in an investigation known as Case 4000. Police suspect that in exchange, he received positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site, in what they say may have constituted bribery.

In his speech Mandelblit said that investigators were working on wrapping up the investigations as quickly as possible, but without giving up their professionalism, despite political pressure from both the left and the right.

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