Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday condemned “threats,” “lies” and “baseless slander” directed against law enforcement, in a thinly veiled rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters’ efforts to discredit the justice system after criminal charges against the premier were announced last week.
“The dignified approach we take is not always embraced by others,” Mandelblit said, hours before a Likud rally was to be held in Tel Aviv under the banner “Stopping the coup.”
“I am hearing expressions that don’t have a place in public discourse that are directed at the law enforcement system, and certain senior officials inside it. I am hearing threats. I am hearing lies. I am hearing baseless slander. That is simply shocking,” the attorney general said at a conference of state attorneys in Eilat.
After Mandelblit announced indictments against Netanyahu in three corruption cases last Thursday, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking to oust him from power with false charges in an “attempted coup.”
Netanyahu claimed the investigation had been tainted by various improprieties and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him. He demanded to “investigate the investigators.”
“I deeply respect the justice system in Israel. But you have to be blind not to see that something bad is happening to police investigators and the prosecution. We’re seeing an attempted coup by the police with false accusations” against him, Netanyahu charged.
His political allies soon took up the refrain, with Communications Minister David Amsalem singling out State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the cases.
Nitzan, Ben-Ari and Mandelblit have all been receiving additional police protection over the past year due to threats from supporters of the prime minister.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Mandelblit said the tightened security arrangements for the prosecutors was “unacceptable.”
“Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of us all. He heads the government, which we serve. The state prosecution is not, God forbid, in a confrontation with the prime minister or any minister,” he said.
Mandelblit announced on Monday that Netanyahu could continue to hold office as a caretaker prime minister despite criminal charges against him, but left open the question of whether he could legally be tasked with forming a new government in the future.
Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office while he fights the criminal charges, which include bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and additional fraud and breach of trust charges in another two cases.
Mandelblit’s announcement Thursday did not include the official filing of an indictment, as the Knesset must first decide on whether to grant Netanyahu procedural immunity, a process that — due to the current political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government — could drag on for months.
The prime minister has called his devotees to his side at several recent Likud party rallies.
On Tuesday evening, a mass rally in the center of Tel Aviv by Netanyahu backers is expected to include fierce criticism of the justice system and calls to investigate the prime minister’s prosecutors.
“There are places where there is a military coup and the military removes elected officials, and there is also a legal coup that takes place above the table in front of our eyes,” Simcha Rothman, a leader of the Movement for Governance and Democracy, one of the groups sponsoring the event, told Channel 12.
Organizers say they are expecting at least 10,000 people to participate — most of whom are being bused to the nation’s liberal heartland from around the country.
The rally will begin at 8 p.m. outside the Tel Aviv Museum.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu had not made clear whether he would address the rally. Channel 13 news said he had not yet decided.
Some in Likud have also expressed misgivings about the rally, with at least two ministers from the party announcing Tuesday that they would not attend. Both Culture Minister Miri Regev and Science Minister Ofir Akunis said they had prior engagements.
A Likud source speaking on condition of anonymity told The Times of Israel that the party was considering asking lawmakers not to attend in order to avoid the possibility of too many no-shows after many expressed disquiet at attending a rally that claimed a “coup” was underway.
Netanyahu’s chief political rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, slammed Netanyahu for the rally.
“The right to protest and freedom of expression are the centerpiece of democracy. In a healthy democracy a person has the right to freely express their opinion,” Gantz tweeted on Tuesday, adding, “In a healthy democracy a prime minister doesn’t organize a protest against the law enforcement system that he oversees.”
Blue and White No 2. Yair Lapid issued a scathing statement accusing Netanyahu of fomenting civil war on Monday.
“Avichai Mandelblit was assigned personal security. The state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, was assigned personal security. Taxation and economic crimes prosecutor Liat Ben Ari was assigned personal security. They are facing death threats,” he said in a statement. “There’s no question about the cause. It’s clear Netanyahu is inciting against them. They need security because otherwise his people will hurt them. That’s what we’ve come to. He’s called on his people to go out to the streets for a violent revolt against the country.”
Likud’s Justice Minister Amir Ohana has attacked the state prosecution, for which he is responsible, saying in recent days that it acts unprofessionally and without oversight. “There are prosecutors breaking the law and nobody checks them,” he said. “I call on the state comptroller to look into this and examine these accusations,” he said.
Most Likud leaders have remained conspicuously silent since the Thursday announcement of the indictments, neither backing Netanyahu nor criticizing him.
The only senior Likud figure who spoke out against Netanyahu’s attacks on the justice system was his rival Gideon Sa’ar, who has launched a leadership challenge against Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s rhetoric, he has said, “harms the Likud’s statesmanlike approach” and “aims not for reform but to destroy the institutions of law enforcement.”