Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to dissuade Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit from holding a pre-election hearing ahead of possible corruption charges is drawing scathing criticism and some mockery from opposition lawmakers.
In a video posted on Saturday night, Netanyahu urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit not to hold a hearing on the three pending corruption cases against him if the process cannot be completed before the April 9 elections.
In the video, the prime minister compares the legal proceedings against him to cutting off the arm of a man initially found guilty of theft.
“Listen to this,” he says at the beginning of the video. “A man walks down the street of a certain Middle Eastern country with a prosthesis hanging from a bandaged shoulder. People ask him: ‘What happened?’ And he says: ‘I was convicted of theft in the first instance.’ And what happened later? ‘I was acquitted in the appeal.’
“Can anyone give him back his arm? Can anyone give you back the elections? You don’t start a hearing before the elections if you cannot finish it before the elections.”
Netanyahu faces corruption charges in three cases: Case 1000, in which he and his family are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from wealthy donors; Case 2000, which concerns talks between him and Yedioth Ahronoth owner and publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly discussing favorable coverage for Netanyahu in return for the prime minister pushing legislation to weaken Yedioth’s rival, Israel Hayom; and Case 4000, which concerns a suspected quid pro quo relationship between Netanyahu and former Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch in which his Walla! news website allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage in return for regulatory benefits for Bezeq.
Netanyahu’s latest video caused ire in the opposition. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid even filmed a counter video. “Listen to this,” he says at the beginning, referencing Netanyahu’s video. “The prime minister thinks we’re in Saudi Arabia. Can anyone give us back our sanity? If someone is indicted, he cannot run in the elections.”
The Labor Party also referenced Netanyahu’s video. “Listen to this, Bibi,” said MK Revital Swid, using the prime minister’s nickname. “This is not some ‘certain Middle Eastern country,’ where the ruler dictates to the justice system how to act. No one asked you when you think the hearing should take place.”
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg responded to the prime minister as well, saying: “Netanyahu, calm down. No one is going to take off your arm. For simple bribery, you get sent to jail.”
MK Michal Rozin, also from Meretz, said that “He who calls early elections because he thinks it will help him legally cannot complain about a hearing before the elections. Don’t threaten us.”
“The prime minister’s chair is not attached to Netanyahu’s body, and the amputation will not be done by surgery, but in an election,” Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni said. “An election in which the public can decide which prime minister it wants in the chair. It’s appropriate for this public to hear what the attorney general has to say.”
Law enforcement officials also criticized the prime minister, with one official saying in private conversations that his recent comments “are meant to influence the decision of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, to once again undermine the public’s trust in law enforcement systems and to present (the hearing) as a political move ahead of the elections.”
“We’re very worried by the de-legitimization we are experiencing. It destroys the public’s trust in the justice system,” the official said.
A statement on behalf of the prime minister said Saturday night that, “Something doesn’t smell right. The average time for a decision by the prosecution on cases concerning public officials, from the moment the police investigation is over, is 18 months. In Case 4000, it takes less than 18 days… there hasn’t been so much running amok in the history of Israeli justice, and perhaps in the history of democratic nations as well.”
Netanyahu’s video Saturday night follows another video he posted last week in which he said that “left-wing protesters and the media have for years been bullying and putting inhuman pressure on the attorney general to indict me at all costs—even when there is nothing (to indict over).”
“This pressure is reaching its climax now. They’re trying to force the attorney general to blatantly interfere in the elections by summoned me to a hearing—when it’s clear already it would not be possible to finish this hearing before the elections,” the prime minister said.
“It is unthinkable that the public would only hear the claims of one side and not the responses of the other side,” he said. “The left-wing’s goal is clear: To try to remove the prime minister using a drumhead court-martial and steal the elections from you, the citizens of Israel.”
He concluded the video by saying, “As one of the Likud members said: ‘They know our team always wins, so they’re trying to pressure the referee to pull (Argentine soccer star Lionel) Messi off the pitch.’”