Mandelblit warns against ‘real erosion’ of Israel’s founding legal principles
AG: Principle of equality before law is no longer sacrosanct

Mandelblit warns against ‘real erosion’ of Israel’s founding legal principles

Attorney general decries efforts to ‘delegitimize’ legal system, rejects ‘claims of persecution’ in investigations involving Netanyahu

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a ceremony for new Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on June 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a ceremony for new Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on June 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday warned against efforts to “delegitimize” Israel’s legal system, which he said could cause a “real erosion” of the legal principles the country was founded on.

Speaking at a conference in Herzliya, Mandelblit hailed what he called Israel’s “legal security,” which, like the military and economy “is an integral part of the country’s national strength.”

Mandelblit said this legal security, however, was now under threat.

“This feeling comes from a number of simultaneous processes, which have in common the attempt to significantly weaken the institutions whose role is to guard and defend the legal security,” he said, decrying efforts to “delegitimize” the legal system.

Mandenblit said those efforts were not aimed at effecting a specific change to how the legal system operates or to alter the relations between the branches of government, but rather represented a “real erosion” of the legal principles that have served the country since its founding.

Illustrative: Israeli Supreme Court justices at a hearing on March 13, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He said that throughout Israel’s history, the legal system had been a “source of pride” and was seen as crucial to guaranteeing the rule of law.

“But recently, unfortunately, the most fundamental basic principles of the rule law, foremost among them the principle of equality before the law, suddenly became a legitimate question to discuss and examine,” the attorney general said.

“The processes about which I’m talking — of personal and systemic delegitimization, of initiatives to weaken the legal system — have become so conspicuous and tangible that many in the Israeli public understood that the central element of the country’s national resilience may be significantly weakened,” he said.

Mandelblit added that while criticism of the legal system was legitimate, he would resist any attempts to undermine its standing or the rule of law.

The attorney general did not spell out what these attempts at delegitimation were, but his comments came as allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s have been pushing for legislation that would allow the Knesset to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court.

The passage of such legislation would mark what has been called the greatest constitutional change in Israeli history, with vast potential impact on the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy, denying the courts the capacity to protect Israeli minorities and uphold core human rights.

It would also, not incidentally, mean the High Court could not reverse Knesset-approved immunity for Netanyahu, who is facing an indictment, pending a hearing, in three graft cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/ Pool/ Flash90)

At the conference, Mandelblit addressed the criminal investigations into Netanyahu, against whom he has announced pending charges, promising to give him a fair shake at his hearing in October.

“I’ve heard that there are those who already know, before me of course, what decision I will make at the end of the hearing,” he said. “They also know that the decision will not be based on professional considerations.”

Mandelblit strenuously denied this would be the case and said those who were claiming so were seeking to undermine the principle of equality before the law.

“It is clear that no pressure can or will influence my decisions, which will be made solely according to the evidence and law,” he said.

Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, has claimed the investigations are part of a plot by the media and his left-wing rivals to remove him from power, and that Mandelblit was pressured into pursuing charges.

“Any claims of persecution or of trumping up charges… are baseless and must be rejected,” the attorney general said.

“The Netanyahu investigations have been handled by the most senior [and] experienced officials — devoted, honest, brave and fair public servants,” he added.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

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