Under fire from Netanyahu, AG says he won’t be cowed by ‘unfounded’ claims

Under fire from Netanyahu, AG says he won’t be cowed by ‘unfounded’ claims

After PM accuses police, prosecutors of inventing ‘baseless cases’ and claims Mandelblit may have ‘something to hide,’ attorney general says arguments will only be heard in court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 20, 2019 (left), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon, Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 20, 2019 (left), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon, Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday rejected claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his corruption trial was an attempted “coup” by legal officials.

Before entering the first hearing of his trial, Netanyahu ripped into police and prosecutors as he became the first Israeli premier to stand trial on criminal charges while in office.

Flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, Netanyahu delivered televised remarks before the start of the hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, declaring that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him.

“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Refusing to respond directly to the premier’s series of broadsides, which included personal attacks against him, Mandelblit said later in the day that prosecutors would “manage proceedings in this case like in any other case — professionally and only in court.

“Israel is a state of laws,” he said in a statement sent out by the Justice Ministry. “Therefore, the court is the only place to hear the sides’ arguments, to present the evidence of the prosecution, and to carefully evaluate all the arguments of the defense. There, and only there, will the defendants’ verdict be determined.

“We will continue to operate fearlessly, even in the face of the unfounded attempt to attribute to law enforcement ulterior considerations, an attempt that must be rejected in its entirety,” said Mandelblit.

“We will continue to work fairly and under the principle that all are equal under the law,” he concluded. “This is our obligation to the citizens of Israel.”

During his earlier speech, Netanyahu had claimed that the “anyone but Bibi gang” sought to interfere in two of the three elections over the past year, in a bid to hurt Likud at the polls. He pointed to the police recommendation that he be charged ahead of the April 2019 elections and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him before the latest election in March.

“They did everything so I wouldn’t stand here today as prime minister,” he said.

Netanyahu touted the support Likud received in the last elections, calling it a “vote of confidence” in him and a “vote of no-confidence” in those who investigated and pressed charges against him.

“I stand here today as your prime minister with my back straight and my head held high,” he said.

He again urged for the proceedings against him to be broadcast live — a request already rejected by Jerusalem District Court judges — and called for the recordings of Mandelblit from the so-called Harpaz affair, which the attorney general was never charged in, to be released.

He suggested Mandelblit had “something personal to hide” and said that if the public would “know the whole truth,” the cases against him would fall apart.

“The people recognize…: this is an attempted political coup against the will of the people,” he said.

Netanyahu vowed to press on and fight the charges, saying he would continue to lead Israel.

As he arrived at court, Netanyahu supporters demonstrated outside the building against the judicial system, while opponents of the premier rallied outside his official Jerusalem residence to call on him to resign over the charges against him.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside the Jerusalem District Court before the start of his trial on graft charges, May 24, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In addition to Netanyahu, the other defendants in the three cases against him were also at Sunday’s opening hearing: Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company; and Elovitch’s wife, Iris Elovitch.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all the cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

Among the Likud lawmakers who accompanied Netanyahu were ministers Israel Katz, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, David Amsalem and Tzachi Hanegbi, along with MKs Nir Bakat, Mai Golan and others.

Earlier, opposition leader Yair Lapid tore into the Likud lawmakers who had announced they planned to join Netanyahu, calling it a “national disgrace” and noting that Ohana, as public security minister, oversees law enforcement agencies.

“This is the true coup attempt,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, wrote on Twitter. He was referring to accusations by Netanyahu and his backers that his indictment last year amounted to an “attempted coup.”

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