State prosecutor urges former officials to defend justice system in media

State prosecutor urges former officials to defend justice system in media

Shai Nitzan draws rebuke from Supreme Court chief after including four current judges in mailing list for his request, says it was done in error

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A letter sent by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to justice system alumni this week, urging them to defend the institutions of law in the media, drew a rebuke from the head of the Supreme Court for being sent to several current judges.

In a statement Friday, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said she’d spoken to Nitzan and told him “There is no place to involve serving judges” in such efforts.

Nitzan said the four were included in the mailing list in error and would be removed.

Nitzan’s Wednesday letter was addressed to former administrators of the state prosecution, which included four former prosecution officials currently serving in judicial positions.

In it he noted that, “On Sunday I met with several former administrators to confer with them about attacks on the prosecution in the media, which have unfortunately increased of late, while asking any who were willing, to appear in the media when the issue arises.”

He said he intended to provide any such volunteers with “information relevant to public discourse about the prosecution in real time. We’ve done this before here and there, but we intend to now do it more frequently.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 29, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He attached several documents related to claims against the prosecution and responses by the heads of the justice system.

The prosecution has been the subject of increasing attacks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies as the criminal cases against the premier approach the point of decision.

Attorney Genertal Avichai Mandelblit and prosecution officials are preparing to make a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, with Channel 13 news reporting Thursday that a decision could be made within 10 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press after a security cabinet meeting following the escalation of violence in with the Gaza Strip at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu himself has claimed, without providing evidence, that the investigations against him are a witch hunt and a conspiracy orchestrated by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution.

A particularly vociferous critic of the prosecution in recent months has been Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu who was appointed by him to the job in June.

In a recent speech, Ohana lashed out at prosecutors, portraying them as a cabal that persecutes critics while being supported by a “cult” of fawning reporters. He appeared to allude to a so-called deep-state element within the system, saying “there is another prosecution — a prosecution within the prosecution. There are those who… have managed to establish a perception that a war of light against darkness [is being waged].”

Any complaints against the justice system are characterized by such “court reporters” as “an attack on the rule of law,” he said. “Political and public careers were destroyed one after the other” by this system.

Mandelblit and Nitzan pushed back against the accusations, saying they rejected “the attempt to cast aspersions on the work of police and prosecution officials without any factual basis.”

Justice Minister Amir Ohana attends a conference in Jerusalem on June 27, 2019 (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Earlier this month Ohana defied a court-imposed gag order to accuse police investigators of illicitly pressuring a key suspect in one of the Netanyahu probes, while again attacking the justice system.

Ohana claimed that serious crimes were being committed intentionally by investigators and that the heads of the legal system were “defending the criminals”and “allowing the rot to take over.”

In an unprecedented rebuke, Mandelblit said Ohana was engaged in an attempt to “mislead the public” for the Likud leader’s political benefit.

Mandelblit, who served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and was appointed by him to the attorney general post in 2016, is widely believed to be planning to formally indict the prime minister on corruption charges in the coming weeks.

In a draft charge sheet issued in February, Mandelblit outlined charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against the premier in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, dubbed by police Case 1000 and Case 2000.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In October prosecutors and the prime minister’s legal team held several days of hearings in which Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to refute the allegations against him.

At the hearings, one of his attorneys, Ram Caspi, said he had “complete and unreserved confidence in the legal system and law enforcement. I have no doubt the attorney general will formulate his decisions in a professional and appropriate manner.”

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