Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday attacked proposed changes to immunity laws which, proponents say, should be adjusted to protect the prime minister and lawmakers from the “distractions” of criminal indictments, insisting that the integrity of the legal system can be trusted.
“It is hard not to get the impression that the attempt to protect the prime minister from decisions that are not relevant to him is not the real goal” of those who seek to alter the immunity bill, Mandelblit said at an Israel Bar Association event in Eilat.
Mandelblit also rejected the notion that his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in any way biased or forced upon him.
“No pressure influenced us,” he said. “We serve no one other than the public interest and the rule of law. All the decisions in the prime minister’s cases were made in a professional and practical manner. In light of that, the claim that adjustment to the immunity law is needed to protect the prime minister…is baseless.”
In February Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in three corruption cases. Netanyahu could face indictment for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them. The prime minister denies all the allegations and has claimed he is the subject of a political witch hunt by prosecutors, the police, and the media.
Following the April 9 elections, Netanyahu has been trying to form a government with various right-wing parties and media reports have said the proposed coalition agreement includes stipulations to back changes in immunity laws for MKs in a way which could prevent Mandelblit from being able to file indictments against the prime minister.
In addition to changing the immunity law, the coalition agreements is said to include an “override clause” demanding backing for legislation which would neuter the Supreme Court by reversing its right to overturn parliamentary legislation and decisions it regards as unconstitutional.
Referring to the so-called override bill, Mandelblit said that it would cause “direct harm to the country’s citizens, who will be left exposed to the possibility of arbitrary decisions by the government. The individual will not have any protection from actions which… may in an extreme case, ignore the individual’s rights and so harm him illegally.”
However, he noted, he doesn’t outright oppose changes in the current balance between the judicial and legislative branches, but cautioned that adjustments must be done carefully.
“I am not among those who contend that the legislative and judicial systems need to be protected from any change,” he said. “It is permitted to check and criticize, but… such examination must be done with cooperation and in a respectful manner.
“As the new government is established, it will certainly be possible to continue this process, while analyzing the necessary balances on such a complex and sensitive subject,” he said.
The passage of such an “override clause” would wreak what has been called the greatest constitutional change in Israeli history, with vast potential impact on the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy, denying the courts the capacity to protect Israeli minorities and uphold core human rights. It would also, not incidentally, mean the court could not reverse Knesset-approved immunity for Netanyahu.
The court’s obligation to maintain oversight over the legislative and executive branches is enshrined in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, approved by the Knesset, as a central feature of Israeli democracy.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, also speaking at the Eilat event, defended the legal system against claims by Netanyahu and his supporters that the prime minister has been treated unfairly as part of a deliberate campaign to oust him from power.
“Over the past year, and even beforehand, we have witnessed an increase in the attacks against the law enforcement system,” Nitzan said.
“It is claimed that everyone is acting with ulterior motives and with the same goal — from the chief of police and the head of the investigations department, to senior officials in the prosecutors office, and the attorney general himself. [As if] our goal, the goal of dozens of investigators and prosecutors, without exception, is one — to bring down the prime minister, out of political considerations alone.
“One baseless claim follows another and the lie — as is the nature of lies which are repeated again and again — starts to slowly seeps into the hearts of many.”