Associates of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly believe that the government’s advancement of the so-called Camera Bill, and the attacks on the attorney general tied to it, are part of a larger attempt to delegitimize the him as he prepares to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in a series of corruption cases.
Netanyahu “is intentionally directing the fire and seeking conflict with the attorney general to establish his claims [against Mandelblit] ahead of the hearing [in Netanyahu’s cases] and discussions of an immunity law,” the unnamed associates were quoted saying by Channel 12 news.
“They will claim Mandelblit is once again acting against Netanyahu and working to bring him down through any means,” the associates added.
On Sunday, ministers unanimously approved a bill that would allow representatives of political parties to bring cameras into polling stations during the September 17 elections, despite the opposition of Mandelblit.
Mandelblit, who in a rare move attended the cabinet meeting in which the bill was voted on, warned in a legal opinion Friday that rushing through the legislation so close to the elections could interfere with the voting process, and reiterated his opposition to ministers.
The elections come barely two weeks before Netanyahu and/or his lawyers will attend a pre-indictment hearing with Mandelblit on October 2-3. Mandelblit has recommended Netanyahu be charged with fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. The premier has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigations are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, the police and state prosecutors to force him from office.
“It’s obvious the prime minister is trying to push him into a corner. There is not for a second any thought of giving in,” the Mandelblit associates told Channel 12.
Despite this alleged pressure, they said there was no chance Mandelblit would step down.
“If someone is dreaming of the attorney general resigning, that’s not going to happen,” they said.
On Saturday, former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is running in the upcoming elections with the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, suggested Netanyahu was pushing the Camera Bill to spark a scrap with Mandelblit that could serve as a pretext to firing him.
Other political figures have said the legislation is a campaign ploy by Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Since the attorney general came out against the bill, Netanyahu and Likud MKs have gone on the offensive against the position voiced by Mandelblit and Hanan Melcer, the Central Elections Committee chairman, who last month barred party polling station representatives from using cameras. President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against the criticism, saying Sunday that he “reject[ed] with disgust the attempts to erode public trust in these bodies and institutions.”
Nevertheless, the bill was approved unanimously by the ministers and Likud intends to advance it in a hyper-accelerated Knesset procedure between Monday and Wednesday. According to the plan, a special committee to advance the law will be set up on Monday and the bill will be brought for the first of three votes in the Knesset plenum needed for it to officially become law. On Tuesday, a full-day debate in the Knesset will be held on the proposal, and on Wednesday it will be brought for second and third reading votes in the Knesset plenum.
According to a Channel 13 news report, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested during Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Israeli soldiers could provide security at polling stations to prevent the ejection of political observers.
“Add 4,000 military people,” Erdan, whose ministry oversees the police, was quoted saying.
In response to Erdan, Communications Minister David Amsalem reportedly suggested Erdan could dispatch some 35,000 police officers instead.
“Your comments to me about police matters are out of place,” Erdan was said to have snapped back.
During the April 9 vote, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims was rampant fraud that has occurred in the community.
Critics charged that Likud’s efforts were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls, a claim apparently corroborated subsequently by the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation.