Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Saturday criticized Benjamin Netanyahu for personally attacking two state prosecutors who have worked with the attorney general on the intended indictment of the prime minister for corruption.
Hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published his decision on Thursday to indict the prime minister for fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and for bribery in one of them, pending a hearing, Netanyahu alleged that state prosecutors Shai Nitzan and Liat Ben-Ari “were the two prosecutors who pushed especially hard to indict me,” and that they did so for political reasons.
“I know the attorney general and his team, including Shai [Nitzan] and Liat Ben-Ari,” Shaked told Channel 12 in response. “These are not people who are politically oriented. They make their decisions for the proper reasons.”
She noted, further, that Ben-Ari was the prosecutor of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, a center-left leader who went to jail for corruption in 2016.
“One can obviously issue criticism, certainly in a democratic state. But criticism should relate to the essence, not the personal,” said Shaked. “There should not be personal attacks.”
Shaked, a coalition partner of Netanyahu’s, also attacked his policies and integrity, asserting that he could not be trusted to resist US pressure to establish a Palestinian state. After the elections in April, if given the chance, Netanyahu and his main opposition rival Benny Gantz, despite their protestations to the contrasty, would join together in a coalition, and partner the Palestinians to statehood, she warned.
“We have to save the right-wing bloc” by strengthening her New Right party, Shaked said.
Despite a promise to the contrary by Israel Resilience party leader Gantz, the former chief of staff who has emerged as Netanyahu’s main election rival, “he will join a Netanyahu government,” Shaked claimed.
“Netanyahu always does this. In 2009, he and [Ehud] Barak swore they wouldn’t sit in a government together” but Barak quickly joined his government, became defense minister, and “we got the Bar Ilan speech” in which Netanyahu agreed in principle to Palestinian statehood. “In 2013, he brought in [then Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni as justice minister. And he [tried to do] the same in 2015 with Isaac Herzog,” she charged.
Shaked also dismissed Gantz’s prime ministerial ambitions, saying “Someone with zero experience [in government] cannot be prime minister.”
In a letter whose content was reported on Friday, Mandelblit called the decision to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, “definitely not a happy day, but… a very important day for a society that upholds the rule of law.”
Mandelblit reportedly singled out for praise State Prosecutor Nitzan and the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department head Ben-Ari, in the wake of Netanyahu’s criticism.
“Special thanks will be given to my partner, State Attorney Shai Nitzan. The work of the State Attorney’s Office must be led with a steady hand and tremendous insight, out of a deep obligation to the fight against corruption,” he said.
“I would like to pay special tribute to the cornerstone … who carried most of the burden with talent and courage, Liat Ben-Ari,” Mandelblit added.
The Justice Ministry on Thursday night rejected Netanyahu’s comments questioning the integrity of Nitzan and Ben-Ari, calling the prime minister’s claims “baseless and misleading.”
On Friday night, Eran Shendar, a former state attorney, sharply rebuked Netanyahu for going after Nitzan and Ben-Ari.
“The prime minister decided to burn down the club — the club of the rule of law — in order to save his public image,” Shendar told Channel 12.
Though the decision is not final, Mandelblit’s call to charge Netanyahu marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over his re-election campaign.
Netanyahu will have an opportunity to overturn the decision in a hearing expected to take place in the months following Election Day on April 9. The process could take up to a year.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims the investigations are part of efforts by the media and Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team, overseen by a “weak” attorney general.
In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.
In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. In that case, Mandelblit announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.