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Attorney general: Coalition MKs are pushing laws aimed to weaken courts, police

Mandelblit warns efforts to curb powers of Supreme Court and law enforcement will ‘lead to a weakening of the rule of law’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses an Israel Bar Association event in Nazareth Illit on May 1, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses an Israel Bar Association event in Nazareth Illit on May 1, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday decried what he termed an “attack” on Israel’s legal system, as lawmakers have sought to advance legislation curbing the Supreme Court’s authority and the investigatory powers of police.

Speaking at an Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat, Mandelblit said there were efforts of late to undermine the legal system’s independence and the public’s trust in it.

“This attack was intended to harm the two basic principles for the proper functioning of the law enforcement system,” Mandelblit said. “Attempts to weaken the Supreme Court and law enforcement bodies will lead to a weakening of the rule of law in the state.”

“A series of private members bills” have been initiated, he lamented, referring to bills submitted by Likud and Jewish Home MKs,  “which stray into the realm of the law enforcement’s considerations and areas of responsibility.”

Also at the conference was Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has led a legislative effort for a bill that would allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court when a bill is declared unconstitutional.

Mandelblit offered strident criticism of the bill, which has come up against stiff opposition in the Knesset.

“Preserving the powers of the Supreme Court is not only essential for the domestic political field, but also international [diplomacy],” he said, noting the court’s recent rejection of a petition challenging the army’s ability to use live fire in Gaza border clashes.

While the bill to rein in the Supreme Court, which would give a simple majority of 61 of the 120 MKs the ability to overturn Supreme Court decisions to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional, was approved by ministers earlier this month, its advancement has been stalled by disagreements among coalition partners over the proposal.

The Supreme Court in session, illustrative (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Mandelblit also defended work being done by police and prosecutors in cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that while investigators are working to wrap up the probes quickly, they would not do so at the expense of the quality and thoroughness of the investigations.

As the cases involving Netanyahu have progressed, the prime minister and his political allies have increasingly struck out at law enforcement, branding the investigations a politically motivated “witch hunt” meant to remove him from power.

Mandelblit, meanwhile, has come under public pressure to push for an indictment, with some charging that he is protecting Netanyahu, his former boss.

In February, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery charges in a pair of corruption probes, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in return for certain benefits.

Case 2000 involves an illicit deal he allegedly hatched with the owner of Israel’s biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, under which the prime minister would get more favorable coverage from the paper. In return, the premier was allegedly prepared to handicap Yedioth’s pro-Netanyahu rival, the free daily Israel Hayom, which is owned by American billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Netanyahu has also been questioned in Case 4000, which involves suspicions he advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq telecom’s owner, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for flattering coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

Mandelblit said Monday that the work on Case 4000 was now “in its final stages.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shaked also spoke at Monday’s conference, where she accused prosecutors and police of “serious disregard for the rights of suspects and defendants,” the Ynet news site reported.

Shaked said she would push for a ban on photographing suspects at court, among other measures.

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