A minister from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said Thursday that there was “no dispute among the Israeli people” over the fact that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is “allegedly a criminal,” drawing a sharp rebuke from the newly appointed justice minister.
Netanyahu loyalists and supporters have increased their attacks on Mandelblit in recent weeks, ahead of the start of the premier’s trial on Sunday, which was ordered late last year by the attorney general.
Mandelblit has come under fire after a journalist broke a gag order to raise questions about his conduct in the so-called Harpaz affair, a 2010 scandal in which he was briefly suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign. The case against him was dropped.
Earlier this month Channel 13’s Ayala Hasson said a 2010 recording exists in which Mandelblit, then the military advocate general, told Gabi Ashkenazi, then the IDF chief of staff (and Mandelblit’s boss) and now the foreign minister, that he would make sure to “close the matter” for him, adding he would ensure that the deputy state attorney “tilts the scales in our favor.”
Hasson later noted that these were not direct quotes and that she was paraphrasing. The recording in question is under gag order and is legally inadmissible as it was made without Mandelblit and Ashkenazi’s knowledge.
Prosecution officials have said in response to Hasson’s comments that the decision not to charge Mandelblit and Ashkenazi in the affair — despite a police recommendation to do so — was made after an extensive review of many conversations between those involved.
And, they said, “the content attributed to the speakers by Ms. Hasson is similar to content of other conversations reviewed by those handling the cases” before the decision was made to close them. They said Hasson was “misleading the public” by alluding to a cover-up by the justice system.
The attacks against Mandelblit were continued Thursday by Likud MK David Amsalem, who this week became the minister responsible for liaison between the Knesset and the government.
“There is no dispute among the Israeli people that Avichai Mandelblit is allegedly a criminal,” Amsalem told Army Radio.
“There are recordings, there is no need for analysis or Supreme Court judges, there is no need for the gang of leftists and pundits and professors from all faculties,” he continued.
Amsalem said it had been a mistake by Netanyahu to appoint Mandelblit, who had been the premier’s chief of staff, as attorney general in 2016.
“There is no doubt that Mandelblit obstructed an investigation,” Amsalem claimed. “He obstructed it as an investigator, it’s the worst obstruction there can be.”
The remarks were slammed by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, a member of Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, who also entered office this week.
“I have full confidence in the attorney general,” Nissenkorn said in a tweet. “Government ministers are allowed to issue criticism that is to the point, but unrestrained attacks cross a red line.”
Mandelblit filed a police complaint last week after receiving death threats and other harassing messages as part of what he described to police as an organized campaign. Two suspects were later detained and questioned by the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit.
Among the messages sent to Mandelblit were “You and your family will die,” “You should kill yourself” and “We’ll get to you and your kids,” as well as a photo of him in a Nazi uniform, Channels 12 and 13 reported at the time. He was also sent a clip of a coffin being carried, the report said.
Mandelblit had already been a popular target for supporters of the prime minister over the filing of the indictments last year, which Netanyahu has decried as an “attempted coup” orchestrated by the media, the opposition, the police and the state prosecution, led by Mandelblit.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing. Hos trial is set to begin Sunday.
Police have previously investigated alleged harassment of Mandelblit, from members of both the right and of the left, and in 2018 his father’s grave was defaced.