Justice minister vows to defend courts, rejecting attacks by Netanyahu, allies

Nissenkorn insists High Court ruling against law that legalized wildcat settlements will be respected, no override clause will be approved; says AG being treated with ‘injustice’

Avi Nissenkorn of  the Blue and White Party attends an election campaign event in Shefayim, on July 14, 2019. Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White Party attends an election campaign event in Shefayim, on July 14, 2019. Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the centrist Blue and White party on Saturday vowed to prevent harm to the judiciary, issuing veiled criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies who have assailed the justice system over  his trial and vowed to enact far-reaching reforms.

Netanyahu, who is charged with corruption in three cases, has repeatedly alleged that the courts, police, his political rivals, the media and state prosecutors all conspired to frame him for crimes he didn’t commit.

In an interview with Channel 12, Nissenkorn said: “Our job as public servants is also to fix [the system], of course, but also to ensure that government apparatuses are defended and respected.

“I won’t allow the justice system to be harmed with an iron fist,” he told the network.

Nissenkorn said his worldview was “different” from that of his interim predecessor, Likud’s Amir Ohana, a staunch Netanyahu ally who sparred repeatedly with law enforcement authorities during his brief tenure.

“I think the system today needs to be defended,” he said. “Its public image has been tarnished, mostly without justification.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan SINDEL / POOL / AFP)

Nissenkorn rejected widespread promises by right-wing lawmakers to legislate an override clause that would remove the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down Knesset laws. Last week the court struck down a law that legalized wildcat settlements in the West Bank.

“In practice, the High Court’s decision will be respected,” he said. “There will be no court-bypassing law as long as I’m justice minister.”

The leader of Nissenkorn’s party, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, said Saturday that he would arrive Sunday at the Justice Ministry offices for a professional tour and meet senior officials.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz after the presentation of the 35th government of Israel at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

While Gantz’s office described it as a routine visit, it was seen by many as a public response to Likud’s attacks on the judiciary.

Nissenkorn also dismissed Likud attacks on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee and former ally who signed off on the criminal indictment against the premier.

Right-wing politicians and activists have repeatedly demanded the release of recordings related to a decade-old criminal probe in which Mandelblit was suspected of wrongdoing but eventually cleared. They have said Mandelblit ought to resign over the matter.

“I think he is being done an injustice,” Nissenkorn said. “In the end there is a case that was probed to completion. There are tens of thousands of hours of recordings, everything was before the Supreme Court, so now we’ll reopen it?”

Immediately prior to the start of his trial last month, Netanyahu ripped into police and prosecutors, insinuating a broad conspiracy to bring him down and declaring that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him.

“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”

Prime Minister Benjamin, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lead the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Netanyahu faces charges in three criminal cases: fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.

Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors.

Case 2000 involves accusations that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, involves accusations that Netanyahu 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.

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