Netanyahu shares new clip accusing media of bias against him

As PM launches fresh attack, Bennett defends Mandelblit: ‘I trust his judgement’

In face of premier’s efforts to portray probes as leftist scheme and the AG as weak, Netanyahu’s coalition ally calls Mandelblit ‘an honest man, decent, very professional’

Education Minister Nafatli Bennett from the New Right political party on an election campaign tour in central Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Education Minister Nafatli Bennett from the New Right political party on an election campaign tour in central Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A top coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday threw his support behind Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, as he and the criminal cases he is overseeing against the premier face intensifying attempts to undermine their legitimacy.

Mandelblit is widely reported to be considering announcing plans to indict the prime minister on bribery charges, pending a hearing, as early as next month.

This has led Netanyahu and his associates to launch an aggressive campaign against Mandelblit and the probes. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused the media, the political left and the police of a conspiracy to bring him down through a “witch hunt” and of pressuring Mandelblit to charge him for political purposes. He recently also assailed Mandelblit himself.

But Bennett, the former head of Jewish Home and now the leader — along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — of the newly formed New Right party, on Saturday gave Mandelblit his full backing.

“I support Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who I have known for many years. He is an honest man, decent, very professional,” Bennett told Channel 12’s Meet the Press. “I trust his judgement.”

Netanyahu and his allies have taken particular issue with the notion of Mandelblit’s decision being publicized ahead of the April 9 general election, arguing that it will influence the vote and there will be no time for a requisite hearing before Israelis head to the polls. Netanyahu has argued that such a move would be akin to “stealing the elections.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem on November 6, 2017. (Flash90)

Asked about the timing of Mandelblit’s upcoming decision, Bennett simply said: “Whatever he decides is acceptable to me.”

However, the minister also repeated his statement that his party would not refuse to sit with Netanyahu in a coalition before an indictment was officially filed following a hearing process, which could take a year or more.

Only if that stage was reached, he said, would his party convene and decide what to do.

Bennett’s statements came as Netanyahu reportedly launched a fresh assault on Mandelblit’s professionalism. In comments to his associates over the weekend which were conveyed to Hadashot news, Netanyahu allegedly said: “It looks like Mandelblit can’t stand up to the pressure.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the attorney general succumbs to the thuggish pressure by the left to file outlandish bribery charges over a few internet stories,” he reportedly said in the conversations. “The left is pressuring him because they believe an indictment against me is the only way to sway public opinion and bring down right-wing rule.”

Netanyahu has not provided proof for his frequent accusations that Mandelblit’s work is affected by outside pressure of any kind.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Saturday evening shared a new clip on his Twitter feed which accused the media of bias against him. “If 2.5 stories about [Netanyahu’s wife] Sara are bribery, then what are these?” the video’s titles ask, as complimentary reports on various politicians flash across the screen.

“Only in Netanyahu’s case is media coverage bribery,” they declare. “Case 4000 — absurd.”

In Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of three cases against Netanyahu, he is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 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.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid responded to the video on his Facebook account: “Every week Netanyahu breaks a record on incitement, while dragging the entire country into his battle for survival. “That’s how criminals act. They try to claim that everyone’s a criminal just like them.”

Lapid went on to call Netanyahu’s conduct “hysterical.”

Media reports earlier this month said that Mandelblit had concluded his examination of the evidence in Case 4000, and is leaning toward pursuing an indictment on bribery charges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening ceremony of the new Ramon airport, near the southern city of Eilat on January 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mandelblit has indicated that he would not delay an announcement of charges, saying that the fact that Israel is holding early elections “is none of my business… It’s not something that affects me.”

“I need to do my work as quickly as possible, although of course without compromising thoroughness and professionalism,” he said in a recent interview with Hadashot news.

The possible charges

Netanyahu has been investigated in three cases — the Bezeq-Walla Case 4000, and the earlier Cases 1000 and 2000 — and police have recommended he be charged with bribery in all three. Police recommendations have no legal value, however, and the final decision rests with Mandelblit.

Netanyahu has said he would not resign during a hearing process, which Mandelblit has confirmed he has no legal obligation to do. Were he to seek to remain in office if indicted, he would likely face legal challenges; the law is not definitive, and some legal experts say a prime minister could stay in office through a trial, a conviction and until all appeals had been exhausted.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.

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 rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit may close the case; Channel 10, by contrast, asserted last week that state prosecutors are leaning toward a bribery charge.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing. He has stopped short of directly accusing the attorney general of political bias, but has attacked Mandelblit regarding an “unprecedented” brief interview the AG gave last weekend to Hadashot TV news, and has complained that he has been prevented from confronting his accusers.

In a Facebook post last Saturday night, Netanyahu accused Mandelblit of launching the probes without hard evidence against him. “That’s what’s called a ‘setup,'” Netanyahu wrote.

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