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Taking over Justice Ministry, Gantz vows to prevent Netanyahu meddling

Defense minister says anyone who is facing criminal charges cannot be involved in the judicial system

Defense and Justice Minister Benny Gantz arrives at the Justice Ministry, in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense and Justice Minister Benny Gantz arrives at the Justice Ministry, in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is now also the justice minister, said Monday that he will not allow anyone under indictment to be involved in the ministry’s affairs, a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.

Gantz, chair of the Blue and White party, took over the position of justice minister after demanding that his predecessor, Avi Nissenkorn, resign following the latter’s jump to a rival party. Nissenkorn resigned last week.

At the ministry building, Gantz met with senior officials as he took up office, telling them he was determined to protect the justice system from harm.

“I will not allow anyone to harm the justice system, and I certainly will not agree for a person with indictments, who is accused of criminal wrongdoing, to deal with judicial matters. He must remain out of such affairs,” Gantz said, without mentioning Netanyahu by name.

“Everyone is equal before the law,” Gantz continued. “I won’t let a criminal defendant to touch the justice system. Our role is to continue to safeguard the justice system and the rule of law in Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Gantz said that protecting the justice system was one of the reasons he brought his Blue and White party into the unity government with Netanyahu despite vowing, during the previous election campaigns, to oust the premier due to the criminal proceedings against him.

“We wanted to watch the watchmen [of law and order], which is why it was so important to me to hold this ministry over the past few months,” he said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who met with Gantz, told the minister that the “biggest challenge we are facing is preserving public faith and public legitimacy for our work in the face of inappropriate attacks.”

Netanyahu and the Likud party he leads have sought to make changes in the justice system that would give the premier a fresh say in the hierarchies that are currently prosecuting and trying him on corruption charges. The prime minister is on trial on three cases that between them include charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust.

Netanyahu claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing and, along with his supporters, has repeatedly claimed that the charges against him are the result of a witch hunt by justice officials, the police, and the media.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Gantz’s main appeal to voters throughout three election campaigns over the past two years had been his promise not to sit under Netanyahu in government. When he broke that vow last year, he said he was doing so in order to protect democratic institutions from within.

The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz was supposed to see Gantz take over as prime minister in November, but a loophole in the deal saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for its fourth election in two years, after the Knesset dissolved last month.

Former justice minister Nissenkorn has joined Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party, The Israelis, and will run for the Knesset on that platform in the next election. Five more of Blue and White’s 14 lawmakers have exited the party since the Knesset dissolved.

A poll last week predicted, for the first time, that Blue and White would not beat the threshold for entry into the Knesset.

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