'Acting contrary to legal adviser is acting against the law'

AG on Netanyahu probes: We’re not going after any one person, only justice

Mandelblit says his office will work quickly to make decision on indictments; slams MK for involvement in caravan installation on Amona hilltop

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the Globes conference in Jerusalem on December 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the Globes conference in Jerusalem on December 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Thursday that his office will work quickly and efficiently to reach a decision regarding the criminal investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We will work quickly, but not at the expense of the investigation,” said Mandelblit in an address at the Globes Conference in Jerusalem. “We will not pursue any one person, only justice.”

The attorney general acknowledged the State Prosecution’s Wednesday completion of its work on the three criminal cases against Netanyahu, which reportedly had State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommending bribery charges in each.

“I accompanied the process closely. The investigation was carried out with determination and professionalism,” Mandelblit said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a July 2015 cabinet meeting, when Mandelblit was serving as cabinet secretary. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The State Prosecution considers one of the probes, known as Case 4000, to constitute “a clear case of bribery,” while Cases 1000 and 2000 are seen as “bribery lite,” Hadashot TV news reported.

It said the attorney general’s office aims to reach a decision on whether to press charges in the next few months, and certainly “well before Passover” in mid-April.

It is up to Mandelblit to decide whether to indict the premier, who denies any wrongdoing.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in Cases 1000, 2000, and 4000. Last month it was reported that Tax and Finance Department head Liat Ben Ari, after reviewing police evidence, had made the same recommendation on Cases 1000 and 2000, though there was no word on her position in Case 4000, the last investigation to have been completed by police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem, ahead of UN the Security Council discussion on Hezbollah’s tunnels into Israel, on December 19, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

In Case 4000 Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

The attorney general also used his address to defend legal advisers in his office who have come under attack over recent months from members of the government, who have accused them of over-stepping by ruling against controversial legislation being advanced by the coalition.

“The rule of law is not the rule of the jurist,” Mandelblit said. “The legal advisers, with myself at the head, cannot rule nor do we seek to rule.”

He then went after the Knesset’s Wednesday advancing of legislation that would allow Israel to forcibly relocate the families of Palestinian terrorists from their homes to other areas of the West Ban — a bill he has warned could infringe upon human rights and spark international condemnation of Israel.

“Acting contrary to the opinion of a legal adviser is an act contrary to the law. The attorney general… is not only a consultant but also an overseer of the government,” Mandelblit asserted.

He said that lawmakers are not subordinate to the attorney general, but rather to the law, which Mandelblit’s job is simply to interpret.

(From L-R) Amona leader Avichai Boaron, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan stand in front of a new caravan that was installed on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 14, 2018. (Campaign to save Amona)

Amona caravans

The legal adviser further appeared to criticize Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich for his role in the installation of mobile homes on land where the Amona outpost once stood in the central West Bank last week.

“Violating the law under the protection of public figures, by placing illegal caravans on private-registered land, cannot be a source of pride,” Mandelblit said.

Smotrich was on site last Thursday night along with several other settler leaders, who said the installment of the two mobile homes was in response to the latest spate of Palestinian attacks.

Smotrich responded in a statement, saying the attorney general “doesn’t know the facts.”

Amona was razed in February 2017 after the High Court ruled it had been built on private Palestinian land.

The settlers claimed Thursday to have legally purchased 40 dunams (10 acres) from Palestinian landowners and submitted documents allegedly proving the transaction to the Civil Administration. However, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction said that it had yet to verify the documents. During the nearly ten years of legal battles to save the outpost, the residents had submitted documents they claimed proved that they had legally purchased the land, but they were later determined to have been falsified.

Regardless, a Civil Administration official told The Times of Israel that the settlers did not coordinate their move with them and that lacked the necessary permits to install the caravans. Moreover, they had violated the army’s closed military zone order that has been in effect on the hilltop since the Amona demolition.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed