Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recently told associates that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the process of fraying Israeli democracy, and that Israel pulled through “by the grace of God,” according to a report Tuesday.
The comments would represent the most strident yet from Mandelblit, who faced an intense pressure campaign from Netanyahu and his allies over his decision to pursue criminal cases against the ex-premier. According to Channel 12 news, he said Netanyahu sought to appoint state prosecutors and Supreme Court judges who would protect him and ensure the cases against him were closed, and that though Netanyahu was no longer in power, the country was not out of danger.
It had started to happen, he reportedly said, with the appointments of certain “legal advisers to government ministries.”
“We need safeguards for the future. It could repeat itself. There’s no guarantee for democracy, that’s my lesson from all this,” he was quoted as saying.
Channel 12 did not provide a recording of the purported conversation, nor did it cite the source which provided the TV network with the transcripts.
According to the reported remarks, Mandeblit claimed that as Netanyahu solidified his power as prime minister, “I saw things moving toward [a demand for] personal loyalty, which means a danger to democracy.”
As Netanyahu’s criminal cases moved forward, there was “a sophisticated attempt” to “change the DNA” of the justice system and the free press, Mandeblit was quoted as saying.
Mandeblit, who previously served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, was appointed as attorney general in 2016 by the former prime minister. The two were once seen as close allies, but their relationship soured after Mandelblit oversaw the decision to indict Netanyahu in 2019 on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two others.
According to Channel 12, Mandeblit, whose term is slated to end in February, said that Netanyahu had an overall plan to appoint prosecutors and judges who would be loyal to him and protect him.
“Bring a certain lawyer, and a certain legal adviser, and certain deputy legal advisers, and a police chief who is ‘one of ours’ and so on. All these things, to make us crumble from within,” he was quoted as saying.
Mandelblit purportedly said that as attacks on him and other legal officials intensified by Netanyahu and his allies, “we suddenly found ourselves in a fight for the legitimacy of the attorney general’s office, for the DNA of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in modern times.”
“That, I think, is the entire story. It took me time to understand it.”
In early November, Mandelblit publicly hinted at a similar sentiment, telling a conference that Israel had been “dangerously close” to moving from a political system concerned with governance to one in which personal loyalty was paramount, which he argued was “in complete contradiction to the principle of loyalty to the public.”
“Over the past few years the threat against the ability of the attorney general’s office to maintain the rule of law has been tangible and real,” Mandelblit said at the time. “A battle has taken place for the State of Israel’s character as a country ruled by law.”
On Tuesday, Mandelblit was quoting as saying that he believed Netanyahu had been capable of trying to replace him with another attorney general who would “say that the case was crumbling and collapsing and that there was no substance to it. I never dreamed we’d reach such a place.”
Mandelblit, who is religious, reportedly said: “We got out of it, really, by the grace of God. I truly believe that… I don’t know how it would have ended. I wouldn’t have been silent. The Supreme Court certainly wouldn’t have been silent.”
Channel 12 cited an associate of Netanyahu saying in response: “These are messianic comments by a public servant who decided to replace the people, no less” — a reference to Netanyahu’s assertion that the cases against him were an attempt to remove him from power on trumped up legal charges, since he could not be beaten in the polls.
“Mandelblit himself admits that he sought to bring down Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the associate added. “Mandelblit should be reminded that in a democracy the people choose their leaders, not the attorney general.”
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution, led by a weak attorney general — Mandelblit — back by leftist politicians and the media.