In veiled criticism of Netanyahu, president says rule of law in Israel ‘eroding’
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In veiled criticism of Netanyahu, president says rule of law in Israel ‘eroding’

Days after PM accused AG of a ‘setup,’ Rivlin warns that undermining commitment to an independent judiciary is a ‘serious mistake’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
President Reuven Rivlin (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday warned that respect for the rule of law is declining in Israel, in remarks seen as critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks against the attorney general and the police.

“Law enforcement is not always a pleasant job; sometimes it means using force against citizens, not against foreign enemies,” the president said at an award ceremony for police officers in Jerusalem.

“Many times it leads to impossible situations… [and] you have been entrusted with a complex and delicate task,” Rivlin told the officers.

“Respect for the rule of law has been eroded over the years,” he said according to remarks released by his office. “The law is seen as artificial, onerous, limiting and irritating.”

“But this is a grievous misunderstanding of the importance of the law,” Rivlin went on. “The law is our social and national moral code. It is the way that society turns its disorder into a success story.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — who is expected to announce whether he intends to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges in the coming weeks — has come under increasing criticism by the prime minister and his supporters. Netanyahu has also directly accused the police of pursuing a political vendetta against him, in league with the left and the media.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu and allies in the Likud party have dismissed the investigations against him as a “witch hunt” and accused the left, the media and the police of pressuring Mandelblit into charging Netanyahu, but until recent days had mostly refrained from attacking the attorney general directly.

In a Facebook post Saturday night, though, Netanyahu accused Mandelblit of launching probes without hard evidence against him. “That’s what’s called a ‘setup,” Netanyahu wrote.

“I understand the meaning of indicting a prime minister,” Mandelblit said in an interview with Hadashot TV news broadcast at the weekend. “It has come on my watch, and I will make the appropriate decision based only on the truth.”

Police have recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery in three separate affairs, dubbed cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. According to legal sources quoted by Hebrew media, Mandelblit has already decided to indict Netanyahu in Case 4000, reportedly the most severe of the three, which involved suspicions he traded regulatory favors for positive media coverage.

While Mandelblit is reportedly set to announce whether he intends to indict before April 9 elections, actual charges cannot be filed until after Netanyahu is granted a hearing, which would likely take place after the vote. Netanyahu has pushed for Mandelblit to hold off on announcing anything before elections for fear it will sway voters.

On Monday, Netanyahu’s defense lawyers met with Mandelblit to ask for a delay in the indictment announcement. The attorney general’s office said Mandelblit was weighing the request; however, he is expected to deny it.

Likud supporters taking part in a straw poll at an event for party faithful in Eilat on January 10, 2018. (Flash90)

According to an Army Radio poll released on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party would drop from a predicted 29 to 25 Knesset seats in the coming election if the attorney general announces an indictment before the April 9 vote.

The lost Likud votes appeared to be equally distributed among four other mainstream parties: Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid would each go up from a projected 13 to 14 seats, while Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu would receive six each and not the five predicted if no indictment announcement were made.

The poll, however, showed that in both cases, Netanyahu would still be able to form a coalition, with his likely partners receiving 61 seats if an indictment were to be announced — a paper-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset but enough to form a government.

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