Former Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Matza on Sunday lashed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “inciting” against the attorney general investigating him on corruption allegations, suggesting the premier’s remarks could constitute a criminal offense.
“I don’t remember, in my entire career, statements like [Netanyahu’s] against law enforcement authorities by someone who wasn’t the head of a crime organization,” said the 84-year-old Matza, who was a judge for 33 years until his retirement from the Supreme Court in 2005.
Matza made the comment after Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook on Saturday night that said the idea of him face a hearing in the graft cases ahead of the April elections was akin to a court “in a certain Middle Eastern country” cutting off a thief’s hand — before the thief wins an appeal against his conviction.
“You don’t start hearings before an election if you’re not going to end it by the time of the elections,” Netanyahu said.
“I was embarrassed for him because he wasn’t embarrassed,” Matza said of Netanyahu. “He needs to understand that the premiership isn’t his private inheritance… that he must cling to at all costs,” he added.
All elected officials “are subject to the law, and must never, under any circumstances, talk this way, which is nothing less than incitement against the attorney general and law enforcement authorities. Actual incitement, in the criminal sense of the word.”
Matza urged Mandelblit to publicize whether he would move ahead with pre-indictment hearings before election day, because “the nation has a right to know who its candidates are.”
The Likud party blasted Matza’s comments on Sunday, calling it a “wild attack” against Netanyahu.
“It’s ridiculous to call every substantive criticism by the prime minister of this strange legal proceeding against him ‘incitement,'” the Likud statement said.
It insisted Netanyahu would not have time to respond in a timely manner to a hearing before election day.
“There is no precedent for opening a [pre-indictment] hearing against a public figure during an election campaign without letting the individual offer their side by holding the hearing ahead of election day.”
It added: “It’s clear that the insistence on moving ahead with one side of the case ahead of the election — which is what the prime minister is criticizing — amounts to egregious intervention in the election.”
Matza, the statement charged, “has found himself dragged into the media campaign whose goal is to topple Prime Minister Netanyahu and bring the left to power.”
In the video at the center of the controversy, Netanyahu likened his situation to that of a man convicted of theft by a court in a “certain” Arab country who finds his hand cut off before he is exonerated on appeal.
“Listen to this story,” Netanyahu says in the video. “A man walks in the street in a certain Middle Eastern country, shoulder stitched up, a prosthesis dangling.”
“They ask him, ‘What happened?’
“He says, ‘I was convicted of theft [in a lower court].’
“‘And what happened after that?’
“‘I won the appeal.'”
Netanyahu asks: “Can someone give him back his hand?”
Turning to the camera, Netanyahu says, “Can someone give you back the elections?”
“You don’t start with hearings before the elections, if you’re not going to finish the hearings by the elections.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid responded to the video, saying: “Listen to this good one. The prime minister thinks we’re in Saudi Arabia. Can someone give us back our sanity? If a person is indicted, they cannot run in the elections.”
The prime minister’s video came as a Hadashot TV news poll published Saturday showed 64% of respondents believe Mandelblit should publicize his decision regarding whether to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, before the elections. Twenty-two percent of respondents said he should not, while 14% said they did not know. The survey questioned a representative survey of 507 Israelis on January 3, with a 4.4% margin of error.
However, a poll conducted on behalf of the Ma’ariv newspaper on January 2 found that Netanyahu’s Likud party would win the same number of seats as in the country’s last elections, even if Mandelblit decided to indict, pending a hearing.
In recent days, top Israeli legal officials have been pushing back against Netanyahu and those of his supporters who have criticized the state prosecution’s handling of the corruption cases against him, warning of efforts to undermine public faith in the rule of law.
Mandelblit complained in a speech on Thursday about irresponsible attempts to undermine public trust in law enforcement.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Friday that a top Likud MK’s recent tweet protesting that millions of Israelis would “not accept” an indictment of Netanyahu was “super-problematic.” And state legal officials were quoted anonymously on Friday night’s Israeli TV broadcasts warning that Netanyahu’s political allies were working to delegitimize the state prosecution.
In some of his most combative comments to date on the corruption probes against him, Netanyahu lashed out Thursday at “the left” and at “the media,” claiming they were coordinating a “thuggish” campaign to pressure Mandelblit to announce an indictment against him in the near future in order to “steal” the April 9 elections.
“For years now, left-wing protesters and the media have leveled thuggish, inhumane pressure at the attorney general to get him to file an indictment against me at any cost — even when there’s nothing there,” the prime minister said. “This pressure is now reaching a climax. They’re trying to force the attorney general to brazenly intervene in the elections by ordering me to a hearing, despite knowing that it won’t be possible to conclude the hearing process by election day. It’s unconscionable to start a hearing process before elections that can’t be concluded by the elections.”
He warned last week: “Imagine what happens if you oust a prime minister before the end of the hearing process, and at the end of the hearing it is decided to close the case. That would be absurd, and a terrible blow to democracy.”
Police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in all three of the probes. Mandelblit is the final authority on whether state prosecutors will ultimately press charges against a sitting prime minister.
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 Friday that state prosecutors are leaning toward a bribery charge.
In Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of the three, Netanyahu 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.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has claimed the investigations are part of a political vendetta and witch hunt aimed to oust him, involving the political left, the media and the police.