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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/8/18

Netanyahu's corruption investigations: Government as a crime organization?

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The ongoing, mushrooming corruption investigations of PM Netanyahu, his family, his confidants and associates have prompted a request to apply the Fighting Organized Crime Act in the Netanyahu cases. The spiraling investigations also expose widespread corruption of the justice system itself.

Figure. The suspects: PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Presiding Justice Esther Hayut, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.


Tel-Aviv, March 08 -- over the past several weeks, Netanyahu has continued his worldwide travels, avoiding summons for police investigations at home, exchanging flatteries with US President Donal Trump (mired in his own troubles), and dreaming up war with Iran in the company of a specific segment of the US Jewish community. In the meanwhile, Netanyahu's corruption investigations have mushroomed, also exposing corruption of the Israeli justice system and fracturing Israeli society like never before.

In late February, it was exposed, as part of one of Netanyahu's corruption investigation, that Israeli Supreme Court Presiding Justice Esther Hayut and senior judge Hila Gerstl were aware for the past 2.5 years of an attempt to bribe Gerstl in relationship to her proposed nomination for Attorney General. A Netanyahu confidant tried to inquire whether Judge Hila Gerstl would take a lenient position relative to Mrs Netanyahu's ongoing legal troubles. [i] Both Judge Gerstl and Supreme Court Presiding Justice Esther Hayut failed to report the incident to law-enforcement authorities. Consequently, both belatedly provided police their testimonies. In the aftermath, Israeli media called for the resignation of Supreme Court Presiding Justice Hayut. [ii]

This is not the first incident of this kind. Already in 1997 it was exposed that Netanyahu appointed AG Roni Bar-On as part of a similarly corrupt deal -- lenient treatment of corruption scandal involving Minister Aryeh Deri (who was later convicted and served a prison term). In 1997, the deal was immediately exposed, and AG Roni Bar-On tenure lasted less than 48 hours. In the aftermath, police recommended that Netanyahu and others be indicted. However, the next AG, Elyakim Rubinstein (later a Supreme Court Justice), decided not to indict Netanyahu and closed the case. [iii]

Also in late February, it was exposed, as part of another one of Netanyahu's corruption investigations, that Judge Poznanski-Katz exchanged WhatsApp messages with the prosecutor prior to the suspects' detention hearing. The prosecutor informed the judge that he had heroically fought against police investigators, and is going to ask for only a couple of days' extension of the suspects' detention. At the same time, the prosecutor instructs that judge to "act surprised". [iv] Media called for criminal prosecution of the judge and the prosecutor-- an unheard of in Israel's 70-year history (with one notable exception in the 1960s, which ended up in acquittal). Eventually, Judge Poznanski-Katz was suspended, pending a secretive disciplinary hearing by her fellow judges.

Following the signing of plea-bargain agreements with three of Netanyahu's close confidants (the latest -- this week), who turned into prosecution witnesses, Netanyahu and members of his governing Likud party have launched an unprecedented smear campaign against the law and justice system. Netanyahu and his followers claim that police and the prosecution are developing an "industry" of witnesses against Netanyahu, and that suspects are placed under tremendous pressures to "dis" and lie about Netanyahu in order to save their own skins. [v] Such attacks also repeatedly allege a "putsch" by the law and justice system against a sitting PM, who was elected by the popular vote.

In recent weeks, such attacks have primarily targeted Police Chief Roni Alsheikh and AG Avichai Mandelblit. The latter holds the authority to approve such plea-bargain agreements. Both are Netanyahu's personal appointments, and in both cases, the appointments have been considered tainted from the start.

Already in relationship to appointment of the current Mossad Chief, it was reported that Netanyahu demanded a personal pledge of loyalty by the leading candidate. According to reports, the candidate declined, and was therefore passed over for the job. Similarly, Roni Alsheikh, Netanyahu's hand-picked police chief, himself disclosed that Netanyahu promised him a later appointment as Shin-Bet Chief, if he accepted the position of police chief. Likewise, following the disclosure of the attempt to bribe Judge Hila Gerstl in relationship to her proposed nomination as AG, the question inevitably came up: Did Mandelblit make any pledge to Netanyahu in return for his appointment as Attorney General?

At present, police conduct appears professional, but AG Mandelblit's conduct is perceived as extremely unusual micromanagement of Netanyahu's corruption investigations, undermining both police and the prosecution.

AG Mandelblit holds the authority to make the final decision regarding filing indictments against Netanyahu. Police and senior prosecutorial staff have already recommended filing indictments in some of the cases. However, as published this week, AG Mandelblit decided to establish Team B, to argue contrary to the existing recommendations, prior to making his final decision. The entire procedure appears to make mockery of equality under the law.

Mandelblit's appointment as AG was particularly questionable: His previous job was a Netanyahu's cabinet secretary -- a political appointee and a confidant. Therefore, the question came up even prior to his appointment, whether he would be able to act in a professional manner in matters related to the Netanyahus' investigations. Now, as investigations branch out, it is also questioned whether Mandelblit was privy to, or even involved in, some of the investigated affairs in his capacity of Netanyahu's cabinet secretary. Calls have been repeatedly made for Mandelblit to recuse himself from handling some or all Netanyahu's investigations. So far he has declined to do so.

Prior to his appointment as AG, Mandelblit himself was a suspect in a major corruption scandal - the Harpaz document affair, claimed at the time to be a "putsch attempt" by senior IDF commanders. [vi] Mandelblit's case was closed by the previous AG under the reasoning of "insufficient evidence" (but not "absence of guilt"). The Harpaz document affair featured again in center stage last week. A media outlet (well known for its excellent sources in law and police matters, and usually supporting Netanyahu and undermining police and the prosecution) reported that State Attorney Shay Nitzan held three incriminating recordings, pertaining to Mandelblit's role in the Harpaz document affair. The report went as far as providing the general contents of each of the recordings. The report also claimed that the threat of publishing the recordings exposed Mandelblit to pressure or extortion. No denial, no demand for retraction, no threat of legal action followed, just a general silence... [vii]

In early February, adding to the concerns regarding Mandelblit's conduct regarding the Netanyahus' investigations, it was exposed that during the period of May 2016 to January 2018 Mandelblit met in private with Suspect/PM Netanyahu 65 times. [viii] In response, former AG Michael Ben-Yair published a Facebook post (a sign of the times), stating that private meetings of the Attorney General and the Prime Minister stood contrary to standard procedures, even when there was no investigation of the Prime Minister looming. According to Ben-Yair, such meetings should always include "referents" - lower-level state officers, whose primary responsibilities include the topics on the meeting's agenda.

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Dr Zernik's core research pertains to e-government and its significance for Human Rights and Civil Society.

His work won appreciation in Israel and abroad: * Prof Uzzi Ornan - "All power to you! I hope that you see your tremendous efforts (more...)
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