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Mandelblit apologizes to former state attorney for bashing him in recording

In letter to members of state prosecution, AG says he used improper, regrettable language and has straightened things out with Shai Nitzan; vows not to be cowed by threats

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a farewell ceremony held for Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a farewell ceremony held for Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Acivhai Mandelblit said Thursday night he had apologized to former state attorney Shai Nitzan for an old recording, aired earlier this week, in which he was heard railing against the latter and calling him a “jerk” for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in an old scandal.

The recording caused an uproar in the Likud party, with lawmakers claiming it proved Nitzan had Mandelblit by the throat, and asserting he had forced the attorney general to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his three criminal cases — a claim Mandelblit vociferously rejected.

It also led coalition whip Miki Zohar, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, to threaten that if Mandelblit did not resign and withdraw his indictment of Netanyahu, more damaging recordings could soon be published. Zohar later walked back the warning, saying he had been misunderstood.

On Thursday the Attorney General’s Office sent an open letter to members of the state prosecution, in which Mandelbit said he was sorry for his language and had conveyed this to Nitzan.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The two recorded calls that were aired Tuesday evening and sparked the uproar took place between Mandelblit and the head of the Israel Bar Association at the time, Efi Nave, in 2015 and 2016.

“I indeed used severe expressions. Those expressions reflected authentic feelings of anger I felt at the time, and I am sorry for them,” Mandelblit said, adding that his language had been “improper.”

“Following the publication of the recordings, I spoke with Shai Nitzan and clarified the matter. Shai accepted this and we straightened things out,” he said. “The publication was used by interested parties in a foolish attempt to fuel a baseless conspiracy bonfire.”

He added that throughout their work together between 2016 and 2019, he and Nitzan had always had a good and professional working relationship.

Mandelblit said the recordings had led to fresh attacks against the justice system, saying the timing was “not coincidental,” as Netanyahu’s trial was set to move into high gear in January.

“This is a difficult time in the life of a nation, but also a moment that shows the strength of Israeli democracy, where everyone is equal before the law,” he wrote.

He stressed that Netanyahu was innocent until proven otherwise, and said he believed the justice system “will withstand this test.”

Knesset House Committee Chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) leads a discussion on canceling the 2013 law limiting the number of ministers, at the Knesset, May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Nothing in the world will sway us from what is right, based on law and evidence. Not curses, not slander, not lies and not fake news, and certainly not threats.”

Allies of Netanyahu claimed the recordings support an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the attorney general had been blackmailed by the state attorney, prosecutors and police into filing the charges as part of a “witch hunt” aimed at ousting the premier.

The newly aired recordings, while highlighting a beef between Mandelblit and Nitzan years before the Netanyahu investigations began, do not provide evidence for any such blackmail.

In them Mandelblit rails against Nitzan for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in a case known as the Harpaz affair, a military scandal dating back to 2010.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new coronavirus lockdown, on September 13, 2020. (Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool/AFP)

Mandelblit, who at the time was military advocate general, the army’s top legal officer, was briefly suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign. He was questioned under caution in June 2014, when he was already out of uniform and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, and later cleared by the High Court of Justice over his involvement in the affair and found to have “done no wrong.”

However, it was up to Nitzan and law enforcement to either declare the case closed due to lack of evidence — implying there may have been wrongdoing on Mandelblit’s part — or to exonerate him completely.

For Mandelblit, who was cabinet secretary at the time of the first call with Nave, a conclusion of lack of evidence could have scuppered his hopes of being appointed attorney general. Mandelbit was eventually appointed attorney general and took office in February 2016, despite the Harpaz case against him not being formally closed. Channel 12 noted that the lack of an exoneration could jeopardize a future appointment to the Supreme Court for Mandelblit.

“Do you understand that that jerk isn’t making a decision on my case?” Mandelblit can be heard telling Nave, referring to Nitzan. “I don’t know what to do with him.”

“He’s doing it to me on purpose. I don’t know what to do,” Mandelblit says. “It’s possible he wants to have me by the throat. I don’t know what he’s thinking. In the end I’ll lose it and make a big stink over this.”

Nave then asks Mandelblit why it bothers him so much.

“Because in the police records I show up as ‘waiting for clarification of his case.’ I have no closing decision. They haven’t closed my case,” Mandelblit responds.

“Does it bother you now?” Nave asks.

“It matters to me,” Mandelblit says. “I want to know that it was closed due to lack of guilt.”

The open case against Mandelblit has been used as ammunition against him by associates of Netanyahu who have sought to discredit the state prosecution as it proceeds with corruption charges against the premier.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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