Attorney general says media can publish leaks from cases against Netanyahu

Attorney general says media can publish leaks from cases against Netanyahu

Mandelblit issues legal opinion saying Likud petition against publication of damaging transcripts ahead of elections should be rejected

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday issued a legal opinion calling for the rejection of a petition by the ruling Likud party that is seeking to prevent the publication of leaked testimonies from the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The petition was filed Friday to the Central Elections Committee and protested the “illegal leaks that are meant to harm the right-wing leadership and Likud’s success” in the upcoming September 17 vote.

However, Mandelblit on Monday informed the committee of his opinion that the petition should be rejected.

In recent weeks, several Hebrew-language news outlets, particularly Channel 12, have published leaked transcripts of various police testimonies by key figures in three corruption cases in which the attorney general has announced charges against Netanyahu, pending a hearing which is set for October 2-3.

Likud reacted to Mandelblit’s legal opinion by saying it was “particularly puzzling in light of the fact that only five months ago, he issued an opposite legal opinion, stating that the filing of the investigation materials in the cases related to the prime minister should be delayed until after the election date, out of fear that the evidence would find its way to the media and be published during an election period.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Ramat Gan on August 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Netanyahu has regularly slammed Channel 12 for its extensive coverage of the cases he is a suspect in and has singled out for criticism a number of its reporters, especially Guy Peleg, who was one of a number of journalists targeted in an election campaign by Likud earlier this year.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu stepped up his attacks, taking aim at the channel’s owners and senior executives.

In a live Facebook video, the prime minister named Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet, the operator of Channel 12; Avi Weiss, the CEO of Keshet’s news company; and major Keshet shareholders Yitzhak Tshuva and Drorit Wertheim. He accused them of carrying out a “terror attack against democracy,” by “pulling the strings” of Channel 12 crime reporter Guy Peleg, who has broadcast extensive leaks from the cases against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu claimed that the four executives had a vendetta against him because “they think I’m trying to break up their monopoly.” He did not specify what monopoly he was referring to.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday that Channel 12 news had decided to assign Peleg a security detail in light of recent threats against him on social media.

Guy Peleg (Eyalbenyaish / Wikipedia)

On Friday, the premier called on Israelis to boycott Channel 12 and Keshet for its role in producing the HBO series “Our Boys,” which he labeled “anti-Semitic.” In a Facebook post, he wrote that Israelis should stop watching the network for “its choice to tarnish us in the world with lies against the State of Israel.”

The post was accompanied by a graphic that included the logos of Channel 12 and its news division, with the words, “fake news.”

“Our Boys” tells the story of the gruesome murder of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists in 2014. The series has been controversial in Israel for choosing to focus on that event while giving little attention to events that precipitated it — the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank.

The control room in the Keshet broadcasting studio is seen on July 10, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Also on Friday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the prime minister’s lawyers had sent a letter to the broadcast authority, Channel 12 news and reporter Peleg, asking the network to look into what they alleged was the journalist’s intentional misquoting of transcripts to harm the premier.

Earlier this week, Channel 12 aired testimony from the most serious of the graft cases facing Netanyahu, in which a state’s witness described to investigators how the prime minister allegedly intervened in regulatory and other business decisions that benefited an Israeli tycoon to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Netanyahu’s personal Twitter account tweeted a response to the report describing Channel 12 as a “propaganda channel” and saying that the case “is a blood libel.”

The probe is the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, as it includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and businessman Shaul Elovitch.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch — the majority shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, and the owner of the Walla news website — that continued for about four years until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods.

Mandelblit’s lengthy description of Netanyahu’s alleged illicit dealings with Elovitch, known as Case 4000, took up the majority of the 57-page document released in February in which Mandelblit set out the allegations that prompted him to announce a criminal indictment against the prime minister, pending a hearing.

A pre-indictment hearing for Elovitch and his wife, also a suspect, was held earlier this month.

Netanyahu is scheduled to attend his own pre-indictment hearing in the case on October 2-3, which will also cover two other corruption probes against him in which the prime minister faces additional fraud and breach of trust charges.

The prime minister denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him.

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