Justice Minister Amir Ohana said he is considering setting up an investigative committee to examine the conduct of state prosecutors, days after he launched a scathing attack accusing them of persecuting public officials they feel threaten their standing.
In an interview with Israel Hayom, excerpts of which were published Thursday, Ohana said he did not regret Tuesday’s press conference, and could formalize his drive against what he sees as a “prosecution within the prosecution,” which is using the media to attempt to push out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“My appeal was for an investigation of leaks in the State Attorney’s Office,” Ohana said. “It is very possible that if there is not a serious response to Tuesday’s press conference, I would like to exercise my authority and set up a government investigation committee into the conduct of the prosecutor’s office.”
He accused prosecutors of seeking to affect political change “using the interrogation schedule.”
Ohana said he was determined to investigate leaks to the media in the State Attorney’s Office, after having been turned down when suggesting such a probe earlier.
Supporters of Netanyahu have accused the state prosecution and police of leaking out information regarding the cases against the prime minister to reporters in order to pressure the justice system to take action.
On Tuesday, Ohana urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to probe his staff for leakers, saying finding and ousting such individuals was necessary to uphold public trust.
Ohana also hit back in the Thursday interview at claims he was acting as a “puppet on a string” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , saying it was a “derogatory statement.”
“Netanyahu did not promote it and did not ask for it,” he said. “My drive to cleanse the system has many partners across the entire political spectrum.”
Ohana, of the Likud party, gave a press conference Tuesday in which he responded to the investigations into Netanyahu, as well as a new probe this week into possible tampering by aides to the premier against a state’s witness. Right-wing leaders have attacked the search of the aides’ phones as anti-democratic. Netanyahu on Monday called it “a terror attack against Israeli democracy.”
He appeared to allude to a so-called deep-state element within the system, saying “there is another prosecution — a prosecution within the prosecution. There are those who, alongside a small cult of stooge reporters, have managed to establish a perception that a war of light against darkness [is being waged].”
Any complaints against the justice system are characterized by such reporters as “an attack on the rule of law,” he said.
The prosecution was thus “turning itself into a political player” and setting its agenda according to political developments, Ohana claimed. He accused prosecutors of approaching the criminal investigations into Netanyahu, and the recent hearing process in the cases, with their minds already made up against the premier.
“While most prosecutors hold hearings with open minds, the prosecution within the prosecution was on holiday during the hearing, and according to leaks has already made up its mind, before it has read and responded to the considerable material [presented by the defense], regardless of what was said at the hearing,” said Ohana.
He was referring to top prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari, who oversaw the Netanyahu cases and who went on a family vacation as the third and fourth day of the prime minister’s hearings were held earlier this month.
Responding to his accusations, Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan said they “regret” his comments and “reject the attempt to cast aspersions on the work of police and prosecution officials without any factual basis.”
“The law enforcement system will not be dragged into the political sphere. No person will deter or dissuade us from the correct path,” Mandelblit and Nitzan said in a joint statement.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut also pushed back, warning against “unprecedented” efforts to politicize Israel’s judicial system.
“These days, unprecedented in our political history, require all of us to stand firm and to do our work without fear,” Hayut said Wednesday. “Politicization of the judicial system is likely to completely undermine its foundations as an independent and objective system,” she added, warning it could undermine the public’s faith in the courts.
Netanyahu faces pending charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in Case 4000. He also faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases. He denies any wrongdoing.
Earlier this month, Mandelblit’s office held a pre-indictment hearing for the premier, having previously announced his intention to charge him in all three cases.