Mandelblit laments ‘incitement’ against lead prosecutor in Netanyahu trial

Attorney general says discourse on top law enforcement officials is troubling, and it’s ‘very worrying’ Liat Ben-Ari has been forced to use bodyguards

Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari (left) with colleagues at the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)
Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari (left) with colleagues at the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday denounced “incitement” against law enforcement officials and particularly against Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, lamenting the fact that she requires protection by bodyguards after receiving repeated threats.

Speaking at a conference organized by the right-wing Besheva newspaper, Mandelblit appeared to refer to repeated attacks on the justice system by Netanyahu and his allies.

“The inflammatory rhetoric and personal attacks against the top enforcers of the law did not exist in the past,” Mandelblit said. “The incitement won’t deter us.

“Criticism is okay. However, getting to a point where we see the lead prosecutor going around with bodyguards and inappropriate remarks are hurled at her is very worrying. But that won’t deter her or me, and we will continue to safeguard the rule of law in the State of Israel,” he said.

“There is an attempt to delegitimize Liat Ben-Ari,” Mandelblit added. “Ben-Ari is doing a great job, I give her my full support.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

Netanyahu has launched scathing attacks against Mandelblit, whom he appointed and who served previously as his cabinet secretary, since the attorney general indicted him in 2019.

In one harangue last year, the prime minister accused the attorney general of being part of a deep-state conspiracy that includes top officials in the police, the state prosecution and the legal system which supposedly aims to oust the premier for political reasons.

Netanyahu this week attended a hearing in his trial for the second time, formally pleading not guilty to corruption charges in three cases.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that he granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. The Elovitches also face bribery charges in the case.

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.” He alleges the state prosecution, police, media and opposition are framing him in an attempted political coup.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at a hearing in his corruption trial at the district court in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Castro/AP)

The evidentiary stage of the corruption trial, when Netanyahu will be expected in court three times a week, is likely to be delayed until after the March 23 election, several legal pundits have predicted.

Netanyahu’s lawyers said the massive scale of the arguments and allegations in the case required a delay in the start of the evidentiary stage, and asked for that phase to only begin in three or four months. The defense is also arguing that the lack of formal, written approval by Mandelblit for the opening of the probes discredits the cases against the premier.

The judges said they would consider whether to accept the request for a delay, but only after another hearing on Mandelblit’s approval of the probes.

Netanyahu’s trial opened last May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

The premier’s lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus rendering the charges moot.

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