What happened: Israeli Justice Minister, Amir Ohana, publicly criticised the country’s criminal justice agencies during a press conference yesterday, accusing the National Police, State Prosecutor’s Office and Attorney General investigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases of being politically motivated. Ohana is a senior Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu confidante who was appointed to the post in June as part of Netanyahu’s caretaker government.
- Ohana said there was a “State Prosecutor’s Office within a State Prosecutor’s Office” that, in collaboration with a small media “cult,” sought to topple Netanyahu and by extension subvert Israeli democracy.
- Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan quickly rejected the accusations, stating: “We reject the attempt to find any fault in the work of the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office without any factual basis. The law enforcement system will not be dragged into the political arena.”
- Lawmakers from the Blue and White opposition party accused Ohana of “inciting” against the legal authorities and acting as a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister, despite his duties to oversee and manage the justice system.
- In a separate incident, Channel 12 broadcast leaked transcripts from the questioning of the Prime Minister’s son Yair Netanyahu, where he calls police investigators “Gestapo,” “Stasi” and a “mafia” and dismisses the allegations against his father as a “witch-hunt.”
Context: The public rhetoric surrounding Netanyahu’s corruption cases has escalated in recent days, due to the airing of leaked transcripts and recordings from the investigation as well as a separate (recent) case where several Netanyahu aides are being investigated for harassing a state’s witness.
- Pro-Netanyahu supporters have taken to calling Israel a “police state” wherein the prime minister is the victim of a politically-motivated effort to remove him from office through judicial means.
- Anti-Netanyahu politicians and pundits have rejected such accusations and said the prime minister and his coterie are fatally undermining trust in the country’s legal system.
- Netanyahu is facing criminal charges in three corruption cases, and the Attorney General announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending the outcome of the hearings that took place earlier this month.
Looking ahead: The Attorney General’s final decision is expected to be issued in the coming weeks, likely no later than mid-December (when the current State Prosecutor is set to finish his term). The key questions are whether Mandelblit decides to indict and, if so, on what charges.
- In an effort to undermine and delegitimize any decision – at least in the public’s mind – the prime minister and his supporters are openly attacking the legal authorities responsible for deciding on the matter. These effort swill likely only increase as the Attorney General decision gets closer.