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Bennett tells AG: 'We all owe you a debt of gratitude'

In parting swipe at Netanyahu, Mandelblit pans those who try ‘to weaken rule of law’

Departing AG, who indicted the ex-PM for graft, tells ministers they must put ‘interests of the state before their political and personal interests,’ as he ends term after 6 years

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a confrence of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a confrence of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli cabinet ministers on Sunday bade farewell to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will end six years in office on Monday night.

In his parting remarks, Mandelblit took a thinly veiled swipe at the man he put on trial for corruption: former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in his latter years of office repeatedly attacked the police, the state prosecutors and the judiciary.

“There were those who tried to present the harm [they sought to cause] to the rule of law as an ideological move, under the pretext of ‘governance,’” he said. “But time and time again, we saw that what really stood behind these moves was a desire to advance personal interests, severely damaging the principle of fidelity to the public.”

During the initial probe into now-opposition leader Netanyahu, Mandelblit was assailed by voices from the left who accused him of dragging out the investigation. Then, after he eventually pressed charges in three cases for which Netanyahu is currently on trial, he faced a relentless barrage of accusations from Netanyahu and his supporters on the right claiming the charges were a conspiracy by police, the justice system and a left-leaning media aiming to see the prime minister replaced.

Netanyahu, who appointed Mandelblit as attorney general in 2016, was eventually ousted last year by a diverse coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, following a run of four inconclusive elections within the space of some two years.

“The rule of law is not the attorney general’s personal property. It’s a fundamental component of a democratic country, which the government is obligated to safeguard for the citizens and for the public interest,” Mandelblit told cabinet ministers.

“A government that works to weaken the rule of law or, God forbid, acts against the rule of law, is harming the public,” he said.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

At the farewell session, Bennett praised Mandelblit’s work in defending Israel on the international stage, while other cabinet members highlighted his tenacity in indicting Netanyahu.

Bennett said of Mandelblit that “in the months since the government was established, we have worked together in the face of very complicated national challenges.

“Hardly a day goes by in which the State of Israel is not challenged in the international legal sphere. Our enemies are using every possible tool against us, even legal persecution and delegitimization in international forums,” Bennett said, appearing to refer to Palestinian effort to try Israelis at the International Criminal Court.

“The role that you have fulfilled, Avichai Mandelblit, in defending the State of Israel, its soldiers and its citizens, in the international arena… is great and significant. We all owe you a debt of gratitude,” he said. “On behalf of the government of Israel, I would like to thank you, Avichai, for many dedicated years of service to the State of Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses for a picture at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, January 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was not able to attend the meeting in person as he has been diagnosed with COVID-19, said that Mandelblit had withstood “an open, long, continuous and unstoppable attack for about two years, by the government itself and led by the [former] prime minister.”

“You played a key role in maintaining the democratic regime in Israel, and when the dust settles, this is how you will be remembered. You did the job honestly, fairly, and with humanity,” Sa’ar said.

Similar praise came from Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai, who said following the meeting, “With his help, among other things Israeli democracy survived the difficult days and resumed functioning. Despite the criticism from the right and left, he courageously and consistently maintained the rule of law in Israel,” Shai said.

Some, however, were happy to see him go. Far-right Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir welcomed the end of Mandelblit’s term, saying the attorney general had left “scorched earth behind him.”

Mandelblit, he charged, had prevented Jews identified with his extremist Otzma Yehudit faction from running for Knesset, protected terrorists, and “cooked up cases against former prime minister Netanyahu.”

“It is good that he has gone,” Ben-Gvir said.

Netanyahu, who also employed Mandelblit as his cabinet secretary for three years before appointing him attorney general, did not immediately post any remark about the cabinet session on his social media channels.

Mandelblit officially ends his term on Tuesday, but so far no replacement for him has been selected. Media reports have indicated that the leading candidate is former Tel Aviv district attorney Gali Baharav-Miara.

He leaves office after reported negotiations for a plea bargain with Netanyahu to end his trial fell apart last week, with the possibility they’ll be renewed under Mandelblit’s successor. The alleged negotiations have drawn protests against Mandelblit from those who want to trial to continue.

Proesteros against a plea deal with former prime MK Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the home of Attorney General Mandelblit, in Petah Tikva on January 15, 2022. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

A search committee for Mandelbit’s replacement is reportedly expected to provide Sa’ar with a shortlist of candidates on Sunday evening. The panel is expected to send three candidates to Sa’ar, who will then appoint one of them attorney general, pending cabinet approval

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