In private conversations, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recently told associates that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggressive attempts to maintain his rule had endangered Israeli democracy and that Israel was saved by “the grace of God” from those efforts, Channel 12 reports.
In transcripts of the conversations, Mandelblit reportedly had with unidentified persons, the attorney general said that as Netanyahu solidified his power as prime minister, “I saw things moving toward [a demand for] personal loyalty, which means a danger to democracy.”
And as Netanyahu’s criminal cases moved forward, there was “a sophisticated attempt” to “change the DNA” of the justice system and the free press.
He said Netanyahu may have even hoped to appoint top judges that would be loyal to him and protect him. “Bring a certain lawyer, and a certain legal adviser, and certain deputy legal advisers, and a police chief who is ‘one of ours’ and so on. All these things could make us crumble from within,” he was quoted as saying.
He said that as attacks on him and other legal officials intensified by Netanyahu and his allies, “We suddenly found ourselves in a fight for the legitimacy of the attorney general’s office, for the DNA of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in modern times.
“That, I think, is the entire story. It took me time to understand it.”
He also said he believed Netanyahu had been capable of trying to replace him with another attorney general who would “say that the case was crumbling and collapsing and that there was no substance to it. I never dreamt we’d reach such a place.”
Mandelblit, who is religious, was quoted as saying: “We got out of it, really, by the grace of God. I truly believe that… I don’t know how it would have ended. I wouldn’t have been silent. The Supreme Court certainly wouldn’t have been silent.”
He added that while Netanyahu was no longer in charge, “We need safeguards for the future. It could repeat itself. There’s no guarantee for democracy, that’s my lesson from all this.”
Channel 12 cited associates of Netanyahu as responding: “These are messianic comments by a public servant who decided to replace the people, no less” — a reference to Netanyahu’s assertion that the cases against him were an attempt to remove him from power legally, since he has popular support in the polls.
“Mandelblit himself admits that he sought to bring down Prime Minister Netanyahu,” they went on. “Mandelblit should be reminded that in a democracy the people choose their leaders, not the attorney general.”