Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer on Monday evening informed the attorney general that his client will attend a hearing on his three criminal cases set for October 2, after failing to convince Avichai Mandelblit to postpone it.
In a video posted online, Netanyahu’s lawyer Amit Hadad said, “We will come to the hearing, but it would have been right to reconsider the date and delay it.”
Hadad added, “We believe there are significant arguments justifying postponing the [hearing] date,” and complained of “dozens of missing documents” in the case files provided to him.
Monday was the last day by which Netanyahu could signal his intention to attend the hearing. Had he failed to do so, his right to a hearing would have been waived and Mandelblit would have moved to make a decision in his cases. The attorney general could then have filed the pending indictment in the prime minister’s criminal probes within days or weeks.
Netanyahu had attempted to have the meeting pushed off, citing the fresh elections, but Mandelblit dismissed the new vote as a justification for postponing the pre-indictment hearing, citing multiple delays by the premier’s defense team.
After Mandelblit announced in mid-February his intention to indict the prime minister, pending the hearing, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them, Netanyahu’s attorneys asked to freeze the process until after the April 9 election. They then refused to pick up the case files from the attorney general’s office for more than a month, saying they had not been paid for their services.
Last month, the attorney general agreed to postpone the hearing — originally scheduled for July 10 — to October 2-3. Netanyahu’s lawyers had asked for a full-year delay, arguing that the volume of evidence was too large to review in three months, but that request was rejected.
In late May, attorney Navot Tel-Zur quit the defense team, citing lack of payment, leaving Hadad as the sole attorney.
Netanyahu is locked in a battle with the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office over his request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers. The committee has rejected the request twice, saying it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case that alleges he received illicit gifts from wealthy individuals in Israel and abroad.
Hadad on Monday asserted that the Permits Committee’s decision contradicted its approach to “any other public figure.”
The lack of financial assistance, he said, “means only I am here to represent the prime minister. One person who needs to read so much material must have more time.”
There had been speculation that Netanyahu would petition the High Court of Justice in a bid to force Mandelblit’s hand. But Mandelblit had said he believed the court would reject such an appeal, as the timing of the hearing was a procedural matter at the discretion of prosecutors.
Netanyahu has complained that the new elections called late last month were “forced” upon him “in an unprecedented manner,” and that this “exceptional event…requires exceptional attention on the part of the law enforcement authorities.”
(It was Netanyahu’s decision to call new elections. The regular course of action once he failed to form a coalition would have been to return to the president, who could have offered the task to a different member of parliament.)
On Friday, Channel 13 reported that Netanyahu was seeking to beef up his defense team and was looking at hiring attorneys Boaz Ben Zur and Dror Matityahu. Ben Zur is also currently representing Israel-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, one of the key figures in one of the cases against the premier.
Netanyahu is widely reported to have tried to build a coalition after April 9’s election in which his Likud MKs and their allies would initiate or back legislative efforts to enable him to avoid prosecution — first by easing his path to gaining immunity via the Knesset, and then by canceling the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn such immunity.
The latter change would be achieved as part of a wide-ranging reform of the Supreme Court’s role, under which justices would be denied their current authority to strike down legislation, and Knesset and government decisions, deemed unconstitutional. Plans for such “override” legislation have been described as marking a potential constitutional revolution that critics warn could shatter the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him, and has claimed they stem from a witch hunt supported by the left-wing opposition, the media, the police, and the state prosecution, headed by a “weak” attorney general.
On Monday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that when Netanyahu recently snubbed the Union of Right-Wing Parties’ Betzalel Smotrich for the Justice portfolio, his confidant informed Smotrich that he was passed over because Netanyahu’s legal future would be in the hands of whoever was appointed to the post.
Nathan Eshel, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a key figure in the failed coalition talks, reportedly told Smotrich: “The next justice minister will hold the key to the legal future of the prime minister and his family. There’s no way you’re getting that key.”
Netanyahu eventually appointed Likud loyalist Amir Ohana, who is among the only senior members of Likud to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution.