Former AG Mandelblit bashes overhaul: ‘Collision is preferable to a bad compromise’

Longtime Netanyahu confidant who ended up indicting him says Israel in ‘historic period that will be remembered for generations,’ warns it ‘will cease being democracy’ if laws pass

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit again warned Saturday against the government’s radical plans to shake up the judiciary, saying Israel was in “a historic period that will be remembered for generations.”

Mandelblit, a former close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who ended up filing a criminal indictment against the premier who appointed him to the top role, told Channel 13 news that if the proposed changes pass into law, “Israel will cease being a democracy.”

Echoing a previous interview he gave last month, Mandelblit charged that the legislative package being blitzed through the Knesset “harms the most basic foundations of the government system, those in whose spirit the State of Israel was founded.”

“I have no choice but to speak out,” he said, arguing that especially damaging would be the government’s insistence on handing the coalition complete control of the selection of judges and making ministry legal advisers political appointees who can be fired by the minister.

“That would be a political appointment,” Mandelblit said. “The judiciary’s independence must be preserved under any condition and this is critical — no political appointments. More important is the independence of the attorney general and the legal advisers in government ministries.”

Commenting on various proposals that have been floated for a softened version of the legal overhaul — none of which have thus far produced negotiations between coalition and opposition figures — Mandelblit said that “a collision is preferable to a bad compromise.”

“We would see the rotten fruit of a bad compromise after a few months or years,” he cautioned. “Once there are political judges, this can’t be remedied.”

Demonstrators attend a protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation, March 11, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The interview came as an estimated 300,000 protesters demonstrated across the country Saturday against the government plans for the 10th straight week.

Mandelblit criticized the conduct of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who on Thursday announced the ouster of the Israel Police’s Tel Aviv district commander Amichai Eshed over what he regards as Eshed’s excessively tolerant approach to the repeated blocking of major highways by protesters against the judicial overhaul.

That announcement, which said Eshed would be moved to the less prestigious post of head of the police’s Training Department, was widely decried as political interference by Ben Gvir in police appointments, and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara — Mandelblit’s successor — suspended the move until an inquiry is done into its legality.

On Saturday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said he had made a “mistake” in okaying Eshed’s removal.

A composite image of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 and Erik Marmor/Flash90)

In his interview, Mandelblit approved of Baharav-Miara’s step, saying he was “pretty sure I would make a similar decision.”

“The attorney general is concerned, as every one of us should be,” he said. “This is a good example of what an independent legal adviser should do as a gatekeeper where a deviation from the law is identified.”

Mandelblit said he was “very concerned about the timing and Ben Gvir’s remarks surrounding the ouster of the Tel Aviv district commander. Does a round of appointments happen exactly on the day the minister angrily says he isn’t satisfied with the district commander’s conduct?”

Mandelblit was once a close confidant of Netanyahu and served as his cabinet secretary from 2013-2016 before being appointed attorney general. The police began investigating corruption allegations against Netanyahu in 2016, and Mandelblit indicted him in November 2019. It marked the first time an attorney general has indicted a sitting prime minister.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases where he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in two cases, and bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in the third. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

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