Defending Netanyahu, Likud MK compares attorney general to Stalin

After Mandelblit was said to tell associates privately that ex-PM was a danger to democracy, MK Shlomo Karhi accuses AG of ‘corrupt coup’

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud MK Shlomo Karhi speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi on Wednesday accused Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of purposely leaking comments saying that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a threat to Israeli democracy, in order to distract attention from weaknesses in the prosecution’s case in the ongoing corruption trial against the ex-premier.

In defending party leader Netanyahu, who is accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, Karhi told Channel 12 news that Mandelblit himself was the biggest threat to the country’s political freedom.

“Mandelblit is the biggest disaster ever for Israeli democracy,” he said, accusing the attorney-general of threatening witnesses, contaminating the investigation, and leaking deliberately in order to effect a “corrupt coup d’etat.”

Channel 12 reported on Tuesday that Mandelblit had recently told associates that Netanyahu was in the process of fraying Israeli democracy.

According to the report, Mandelblit said Netanyahu sought to appoint state prosecutors and Supreme Court judges who would protect him and ensure the cases against him were closed, and that though Netanyahu was no longer in power, the danger to the state was not over.

Channel 12 did not provide a recording of the purported conversation, nor did it cite the source for the transcripts.

Karhi said it was “false and ridiculous” to suggest that the leaks had been made without Mandelblit’s knowledge. “We know that everything the State Attorney’s Office and the prosecution want [to make public] is immediately spread on the media stage,” he said.

“Mandelblit can see that his trial [of Netanyahu] is crashing,” Karhi said, referring to testimony from a key state witness that, the MK claimed, showed there was no basis for the bribery charge against Netanyahu.

“So he [Mandelblit] is trying all kinds of spin,” Karhi said.

He accused the attorney-general of “using methods of Stalin and Russia to carry out the most corrupt legal coup of all time.”

Mandelblit and former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who while still in office had recommended indicting Netanyahu, “are the most corrupt of all time,” he said, urging that the two men be made to confess to their “crimes.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Karhi also brought up previous claims that the attorney general had been pressured by other figures in the state prosecutor’s office — among them Nitzan — to indict Netanyahu and that they were using an unresolved case against Mandelblit as leverage.

Those accusations stem from tapes, dating to 2015 and 2016, in which Mandelblit calls Nitzan a “jerk” for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in the 2010 so-called Harpaz affair. Mandelblit, who at the time was military advocate general, the army’s top legal officer, had briefly been suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign. He was later cleared by the High Court of Justice. However, it was up to Nitzan and law enforcement to declare whether the case was closed due to lack of evidence, or the absence of a basis for an accusation.

The comments by the attorney general broadcast Tuesday seemed to represent the most strident yet from Mandelblit, who faced an intense pressure campaign from Netanyahu and his allies over his decision to pursue a criminal investigation, and later charges, against the ex-premier.

According to the reported remarks, Mandelblit claimed that as Netanyahu consolidated his power as prime minister, “I saw things moving toward [a demand for] personal loyalty, which means a danger to democracy.”

As Netanyahu’s criminal cases moved forward, there was “a sophisticated attempt” to “change the DNA” of the justice system and the free press, Mandelblit was quoted as saying.

Mandelblit, who previously served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, was appointed as attorney general in 2016 by the former prime minister. The two were once seen as close allies, but their relationship soured after Mandelblit oversaw the decision to indict Netanyahu in 2019 on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two others.

According to Channel 12, Mandelblit, whose term is slated to end in February, said that Netanyahu had an overarching plan to appoint prosecutors and judges who would be loyal to him and protect him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a July 2015 cabinet meeting, when Mandelblit was serving as cabinet secretary. (Emil Salman/Pool)

“Bring a certain lawyer, and a certain legal adviser, and a certain deputy legal advisers, and a police chief who is ‘one of us’ and so on. All these things, to make us crumble from within,” he was quoted as saying.

Mandelblit purportedly said that as attacks on him and other legal officials by Netanyahu and his allies intensified, “we suddenly found ourselves in a fight for the legitimacy of the attorney general’s office, for the DNA of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in modern times.”

“That, I think, is the entire story. It took me time to understand it.”

In early November, Mandelblit publicly hinted at a similar sentiment, telling a conference that Israel had been “dangerously close” to moving from a political system concerned with governance to one in which personal loyalty was paramount, which he argued was “in complete contradiction to the principle of loyalty to the public.”

“Over the past few years the threat against the ability of the attorney general’s office to maintain the rule of law has been tangible and real,” Mandelblit said at the time. “A battle has taken place for the State of Israel’s character as a country ruled by law.”

On Tuesday, Mandelblit was quoting as saying that he believed Netanyahu had been capable of trying to replace him with another attorney general who would “say that the case was crumbling and collapsing and that there was no substance to it. I never dreamed we’d reach such a place.”

Mandelblit, who is religious, reportedly said: “We got out of it, really, by the grace of God. I truly believe that… I don’t know how it would have ended. I wouldn’t have been silent. The Supreme Court certainly wouldn’t have been silent.”

Channel 12 quoted an associate of Netanyahu as saying in response: “These are messianic comments by a public servant who decided to replace the people, no less” — a reference to Netanyahu’s assertion that the cases against him were an attempt to remove him from power on trumped-up legal charges, since he could not be beaten in the polls.

“Mandelblit himself admits that he sought to bring down Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the associate added. “Mandelblit should be reminded that in a democracy the people choose their leaders, not the attorney general.”

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution, led by a weak attorney general — Mandelblit — backed by leftist politicians and the media.

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