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AG urges High Court: Reject petition seeking to bar Netanyahu government

Mandelblit says he believes there is ‘no justification for judicial interference,’ since previous ruling said premier can retain his position even under indictment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 20, 2019 (left), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon, Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 20, 2019 (left), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon, Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that he saw no reason for judges to intervene in President Reuven Rivlin’s decision to task Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government.

In a letter to the court, Mandelblit said he believed a petition to deprive Netanyahu of the mandate should be rejected out of hand.

Mandelblit argued there was “no justification for judicial interference” in the matter.

He pointed to a High Court ruling last year that said Netanyahu can form a government despite the ongoing criminal trial against him in three corruption cases.

The new petition was filed several days ago by a group called “The Fortress of Democracy,” which argued that Netanyahu has reneged on a conflict of interest agreement he agreed to last year that bars him from being personally involved in judicial and law enforcement appointments.

Netanyahu has since claimed he isn’t bound by the deal, publicly sparring with Mandelblit, who insists Netanyahu is bound by the agreement.

Mandelblit said the new petition failed to provide any argument that would alter the previous ruling, and recommended that the court reject it out of hand.

Last month, the High Court ruled that Netanyahu must abide by conflict of interest rules laid out by Mandelblit preventing him from appointing senior law enforcement and justice officials.

Under Mandelblit’s arrangement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in any matters that affect witnesses or other defendants in his graft trial, or in legislation that would impact the legal proceedings against him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz face away from each other during the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset (Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Meanwhile, Israel has been without a justice minister since early this month after Benny Gantz’s maximal three-month term as acting justice minister expired. Netanyahu can’t take the post for himself since he is a criminal defendant, and has blocked attempts to approve another candidate.

Mandelblit last week issued a legal opinion saying the high-level security cabinet and coronavirus cabinet cannot hold votes until a full-time justice minister has been appointed.

Gantz has been demanding that he be tapped as full-time minister, with Netanyahu refusing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with his lawyers at a hearing in his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court, April 5, 2021. (Pool/AFP)

The first hearings in the evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust were held last week. The thrice-weekly hearings are set to resume on Monday.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.” He alleges the state prosecution, police, media and opposition are framing him in an attempted political coup.

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