Israel Pulse

Israeli legislators protest outside attorney general’s home

Article Summary
Israeli legislators should not join demonstrations criticizing Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for taking his time in investigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"This is a demonstration of the left … it’s anti-constitutional and anti-democratic. They say it explicitly, 'We want to influence decision-makers,'" chairman of the coalition David Bitan was heard saying at the Likud Party’s demonstration on the evening of Aug. 5, next to the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petach Tikva. His words reflect a dangerous confusion of basic terms of democratic rule.

Bitan, alongside Minister of Communications Ayoob Kara, Deputy Minister Yaron Mazuz and Knesset members Amir Ohana and Nava Boker of the Likud, headed several hundred Likud members who gathered as part of a counterprotest to the demonstrations that have been taking place at Mandelblit’s home for 37 weeks in a row. These protests began at the end of 2016, even before the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 1000 (gifts from businessmen) and Case 2000 (conversations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes over a deal for positive coverage of Netanyahu) became public. These protests were organized by left-wing activists to pressure Mandelblit to quickly advance investigations of the prime minister, since they feared he is delaying them in order to allow Netanyahu to evade them. With the significant developments in these cases, an element of protest against corruption was added to these weekly demonstrations, which grew from a few dozen protesters to several thousands.

Many of the demonstrators feel that even if the investigation process has not been finalized yet, Netanyahu is guilty and should resign from office — and the attorney general is protecting him and his wife. They call Mandelblit “the family lawyer.” One could argue that as time passes the investigations of Netanyahu uncover more issues, and it seems that the law enforcement system has indeed worked this whole time. The prosecution even signed two state witness agreements with key figures — Ari Harow and Miki Ganor — in cases that involve Netanyahu.

The protesters argue that any advancement in the investigations is a result of the pressure of the protests. We can only hope that this is not the case, and that the attorney general is acting independently and is not influenced by the de-legitimization campaign against him.

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The attempt to play down the political motives of the demonstrators is unnecessary. The vast majority were not among Netanyahu supporters or the right even before the investigations began. This is all the more true for Labor Party activist Eldad Yaniv, who is the driving force behind promoting the demonstrations on the social networks. He had already come to the conclusion a year ago that Mandelblit is corrupt and is covering for the prime minister. The political motivation behind the demonstrations is legitimate and understandable, and is a sign of a healthy democracy. But the decision by Knesset members from the left, and now also from the right, to participate in the protests next to the home of the attorney general shows a lack of understanding of their role in the democratic system of checks and balances and the principle of the separation of powers.

Bitan, like left-wing Knesset members and heads of parties who have attended the demonstrations, should keep away. Representatives of the legislative authority should not participate in putting political and public pressure on an attorney general who is overseeing complicated and sensitive investigations of a sitting prime minister who was democratically elected. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened on Aug. 5 at Goren Square in Petach Tikva.

When the chairman of Meretz, Zehava Gal-On, regularly attends demonstrations where signs are held that border on character assassination of the attorney general, she misapplies her role. Gal-On — like Michal Rozin, Ilan Gilon and other Knesset members who maintain a regular presence next to Mandelblit’s home — has many ways to express her opinion on the progress of investigations in the framework of the parliamentary debate.

The moment they arrive in the neighborhood where Mandelblit lives with his family and demand the attorney general issue an indictment and even convict Netanyahu before the investigation ends, they are party to the cheapening of the discourse and damage to the rule of law — the importance of which they love to talk about. They ignore the fact that in March the High Court rejected the petitions that claimed that the attorney general is unduly delaying the investigations of the submarine and ship episodes. The judges wrote then, “One should not enable the de-legitimization of the law enforcement system, which is professional and has a history of many years of unbiased activity … we do not believe that improper and unconsidered decisions could easily be made that would 'sneak under the radar' — both the professional and public."

Thus, when Chairman of the Zionist Camp Avi Gabbay — who wishes to be elected prime minister — came to the protest in Petach Tikva on July 15, a few days after his win in the Labor primaries, he provided a tailwind to this de-legitimization campaign and at the same time damaged the High Court.

Gabbay declared at the demonstration, “There are facts about which there are no disagreements, among which are gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels and the deep involvement of the cousin [Netanyahu’s relative, attorney David Shomron] in the ship deals [in reference to the submarine scandal] … this corrupt public behavior is enough for the heads of coalition parties to show public courage, dissolve the government and go to an election.”

His words are a legitimate critique, but they should not have been spoken near the home of the attorney general, next to signs saying, “wealth-government-underworld.”

Mandelblit is a respected jurist with much experience and — as far as is known — professional integrity. He was investigated under warning in the Harpaz case that rattled the top of the security establishment, but in 2015 the case against him closed. He is not indifferent to the de-legitimization campaign against him, and every once in a while he publicly mentions the Netanyahu investigations and emphasizes that they are happening and progressing. On July 5, at the accountants’ conference in Eilat, he said, “Since the investigation is still in progress, I will say only that the investigation is progressing energetically, but more importantly that the investigation is progressing and will continue to progress professionally.”

The demonstrations next to Mandelblit’s home, from the left and the right, are expected to continue to gain momentum next Saturday night, Aug. 12. As important as they are to democratic discourse in Israel, it is as important that members of the Knesset stay away from them. 

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Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse and formerly the senior political correspondent for Maariv and Haaretz. She also presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel. On Twitter: @mazalm3

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