Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday doubled down on his claims that his legal troubles are part of a plot by the left and the media to dethrone him.
“For three years the left and the media have hounded the attorney general to indict at any cost,” according to a new clip posted on the prime minister’s Facebook page.
“At the grocery shop, in the street, at the synagogue. Will they succeed?” the clip asked.
Members of the opposition slammed the video.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay accused Netanyahu of making Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the media a target and accused the prime minister of “forgetting his people and destroying Israel.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said the video was a clear threat against Mandelblit. “The goal is to use any means to prevent the attorney general from filing an indictment, and ensuring that should he do so, his professional decision will be painted with the colors of treason.”
She said Netanyahu was seeking to destroy the foundations of democracy, so that if he falls, so do they.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson (Hatnua) said the video was “a dark example of what will happen here if we don’t do everything to replace Netanyahu.”
Meanwhile, MK Miki Zohar of Likud responded by saying that the clip showed the “anti-democratic” and “violent pressure on the attorney general to indict.”
Amid growing reports that Mandelblit intends to indict Netanyahu on charges of corruption — and that the announcement could be made as early as next month — the premier has intensified efforts to portray such a decision as illegitimate.
Earlier this month Netanyahu said, without proof, that the left and the media were coordinating a “thuggish” campaign to pressure Mandelblit to announce an indictment against him in order to “steal” the April 9 elections.
The new clip comes amid Friday’s report by Hadashot TV news that Mandelblit has concluded his deliberations on Case 4000 and will summon the prime minister for a pre-indictment hearing by mid-February. The attorney general is said to back the recommendations to indict made by the head of the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department, Liat Ben Ari.
On Thursday, Mandelblit indicated that he will turn down Netanyahu’s request that he delay until after the elections his announcement on whether he will indict the prime minister on corruption charges.
The fact that Israel is holding early elections “is none of my business… It’s not something that affects me,” Mandelblit told Channel 12 news. “I need to do my work as quickly as possible, although of course without compromising thoroughness and professionalism.”
Asked whether he intended to publish his conclusions before the elections, and whether it was important to do so, he said: “I am working as quickly as possible in order to get the work done and make the findings public — on condition that I am comfortable [with the findings] personally and professionally. Ultimately, it’s a question of professionalism.”
In a letter to Netanyahu’s lawyer last week, an official in the attorney general’s office said that the work would “not be delayed” and pointed out that the timetable for examining the evidence in the cases was established before early elections were called.
While Netanyahu has stopped short of accusing the attorney general of political bias, other lawmakers in his Likud party have lashed out at Mandelblit, calling the investigations against the prime minister a “politicized witch hunt.”
Last week, Hadashot TV news revealed possible signs of rising tensions between Mandelblit and Netanyahu, when it quoted an unnamed “source close to the attorney general” accusing the prime minister of instigating the defamation campaign against the attorney general.
“The messaging against the attorney general’s office, and against the attorney general himself, is coming directly from the top. The prime minister is dragging the entire country down. It’s sad and it’s going to hurt us all,” the source was quoted as saying.
The Likud party rushed to deny the accusation, saying in a statement that Netanyahu had nothing to do with “messaging against the attorney general, but only with the demand for a fair process, as any citizen deserves.”
Attorney Navot Tel-Zur, a member of Netanyahu’s legal team in three corruption probes, asked Mandelblit in a January 14 letter not to move ahead with indictment proceedings during an election campaign, and demanded a meeting to discuss the timing of an announcement in the cases.
In a response to Tel-Zur from Dr. Gil Limon, a senior aide to Mandelblit, the attorney general’s office stressed that the pace of work on Netanyahu’s cases is unaffected by the election timetable.
Limon pointed out in the letter that State Attorney Shai Nitzan announced on December 19 that the evidence in the case, together with prosecutors’ opinions regarding indictments, had been passed on to the attorney general for a decision. Netanyahu’s coalition announced it would call early elections only five days later, on December 24.
“The process of examining the evidence in the cases under investigation in which the prime minister is a suspect is a professional process, and is being conducted according to accepted procedures in cases that are decided by the attorney general,” Limon wrote. “The work on the cases is advancing in an organized and substantive fashion, in an effort to conclude the work as soon as possible, according to the initial plan, which preceded the calling of early elections.”
Limon also quoted to Tel-Zur from a longstanding directive to prosecutors issued by Mandelblit that states, “As a rule, work on cases involving public figures or [election] candidates should not be delayed if they have reached the state or police prosecution, after an investigation, for a decision on filing indictments.”
Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so.
Legal officials have anonymously said that this is true, but that Netanyahu would have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office were a formal, final indictment subsequently filed at the completion of the hearing process. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such cases. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.
Mandelblit has also said there would “clearly” be no requirement for Netanyahu to step down while a hearing process was in progress, but made no comment as to whether he would make his decision on a possible indictment in the course of the election campaign.
Earlier this month, in a video posted to his social media accounts, Netanyahu compared himself to a man whose arm was cut off because he was found guilty of theft in the first instance but later acquitted on appeal. “Can someone give him back his hand? Can someone give you back the elections?” Netanyahu asked, addressing the Israeli electorate.
There has been speculation that, should he win the elections, as he is expected to do, Netanyahu would seek to pass the “French law” — a reference to legislation that would provide immunity for a serving prime minister from prosecution.