Israel’s Channel 12 on Tuesday night revealed extraordinary recordings containing a harsh attack by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit against former State Attorney Shai Nitzan. In the recordings, the AG bitterly complained about Nitzan’s refusal to close the criminal case against Mandelblit in the Harpaz scandal, and repeatedly said that Nitzan has him by the throat. The AG even accuses Nitzan outright of tailoring the case against him.
Excerpts from Mandelblit’s statements on the tapes (full transcripts below):
“But do you understand that this maniac is not deciding on my case? He… I… I… don’t know what to do with him…
“I get no decision. [I’m talking about] Shai [Nitzan]. There is no decision in my case that for whatever reason it should be closed. He’s not making a decision. He’s dragging it, you know. He’s got time….
“And he’s doing it to me on purpose. I don’t know what to do…
“Yes, he can hold me by the throat. I don’t know what. Don’t know what he’s thinking to himself. Eventually, eventually I will explode and do him a horrible mess over it. I don’t know I… I will press it more…
“The people who tailored the case against me were [Deputy AG] Dina Zilber and Shai [Nitzan].”
According to senior Likud members, it can be understood from the recordings that Nitzan blackmailed Mandelblit and refused to close the criminal case against him to secure the AG’s approval of the three criminal indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Both Mandelblit and Nitzan insisted there were no conflicts of interest nor improper decisions arising from the relationship between them.
The Harpaz affair came to life following the 2010 revelation of the Harpaz document by Channel 12—when it was still just Channel 2. The document included instructions for creating a positive image for one of the candidates for the post of chief of staff, Yoav Galant, while defaming others. The document turned out to be a forgery made by a reserve IDF officer named Boaz Harpaz.
In June 2014, then Government Secretary Avichai Mandelblit was interrogated with a warning by the police, because when the Harpaz document was published, Madelblit was the chief military advocate. In early September 2014, the police recommended prosecuting Mandelblit and others on suspicion of breach of trust and obstruction of justice because they knew about the document and did not report it.
In May 2015, then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to close the investigation file against Mandelblit.
Six months before Mandelblit’s appointment to AG, he spoke over the phone to attorney Effi Naveh Naveh, who served as head of the Israel Bar Association from 2015–2019. The following is a transcript of the conversation between Mandelblit and Naveh, in 2015.
Naveh: First, this is really an opportunity for you to see, and I tell you, every time journalists talk to me and such I say: You do not understand, this is the man you would like to be the attorney general. He was on the other side, he sees what it’s like to tailor a case against a person… He doesn’t only live the life of a prosecutor… he also lives the…
Mandelblit: I was a prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, I am a client…
Naveh: This is the man, this is the man…
Mandelblit: Suspect, investigator…
Naveh: This is the man you would want to decide people’s fates because he was in these places, he also knows the meaning of mercy and what’s a consideration, and what is … humanity.
Mandelblit: I learned… You have to take it to the teaching places.
And this is what Mandelblit thought at the time about those he claimed were behind the investigation against him, in a transcript of another Mandelblit and Naveh conversation in 2015:
Mandelblit: No… it’s… Raz Nizri retired at some point. The people who tailored the case against me were [Deputy AG] Dina Zilber and Shai [Nitzan]. Shai seems a little like he was going easy, but… not with such love.
Mandelblit was appointed Attorney General, but his criminal case disturbed his peace of mind – his big dream was (still is – DI) to be appointed to the supreme court, but he could kiss the appointment goodbye if that criminal investigation against him was closed for lack of sufficient evidence and not because he was found innocent.
Later, after five High Court justices unanimously ruled that Mandelblit’s conduct in the Harpaz case was spotless, the AG expected an immediate closure of the case against him. But the closing of the case he was yearning for was not happening – well into his tenure as AG.
In another conversation with Naveh, in 2016, Mandelblit pointed to the person he believed was responsible for his prolonged humiliation. No one has heard an attorney general speak in such a vulgar manner about a state prosecutor since the establishment of the state.
Naveh: What’s up?
Mandelblit: Oh, I don’t know… Okay. It might be okay.
Naveh: I don’t envy you.
Mandelblit: It’s not related to that.
Naveh: Look, we’re holding a discussion panel, uh… several panels, at our judicial conference. You know, it’s the opening ceremony for the judicial year, you go there to give your blessings.
Mandelblit: No, I’m coming to give my blessing and leave…
Naveh: Wait, but we’re doing a panel there, very, very interesting, there are all kinds of panels, but among other things, we’re holding a panel on whether it’s time to change the practice of closing files for lack of evidence.
Mandelblit: But do you understand that this maniac (the word in Hebrew implies a sex offender — DI) is not deciding on my case? He… I… I… don’t know what to do with him.
Naveh: Who are you talking about?
Mandelblit: I get no decision. [I’m talking about] Shai [Nitzan]. There is no decision in my case that for whatever reason it should be closed. He’s not making a decision. He’s dragging it, you know. He’s got time.
Naveh: Tell me just a second…
Mandelblit: And he’s doing it to me on purpose. I don’t know what to do. You should take it to [Attorney General’s Audit Commissioner] Hila Gerstel.
Another conversation between Avichai Mandelblit and Effi Naveh, 2016:
Mandelblit: I’m explaining to you, I have an open file. I don’t know, I have an awaiting clarification case. I don’t know. I didn’t receive a reason for closing, nor a closing. I don’t have one. Now, five judges sat down, said what they said, I was sure one second later he was tossing it. Now I don’t know what to do, I don’t know if I can talk to him.
Naveh: Why not? Why don’t you… Truth be told? You’re his boss.
Mandelblit: But not for this, it’s my personal file. You understand. Crazy thing. Now I said…
Naveh: So what, he plans to spend half your term and he…
Mandelblit: Could be, could be. Yes, he can hold me by the throat. I don’t know what. Don’t know what he’s thinking to himself. Eventually, eventually I will explode and do him a horrible mess over it. I don’t know I… I will press it more.
Naveh: Say for a moment, after you received the High Court decision, why are you even bothered by this? Why does it interest you?
Mandelblit: Why? Because in the police register I appear as waiting for a clarification. I have no closing decision. I have a ‘waiting for clarification’ file. They didn’t close my case.
Mandelblit: In the registry. Now he can…
Naveh: And why is it bothering you now? Like why does this interest you?
Mandelblit: I find it very interesting. I want to know it’s finished, for lack of guilt. The same way it interested you, you filed an appeal and your appeal was upheld.
Naveh: No. I mean it, I mean it, aren’t we done? You got the appointment, it’s impossible today… uh…
Mandelblit: What does it have to do with the appointment? what does it have to do with it? What do I need a police record for? For what?
Naveh: You’re right about that one.
Mandelblit: What is this thing? And also, what’s this method of holding a man by the throat? Like, why? Now… now let me tell you about the registry.
Naveh: Are you trying to convince me? Tell me, are you kidding me? You are there, you are there now.
Mandelblit: Five judges spoke, now this panel is problematic. After all, this is a problematic issue.
Naveh: Too bad, it’s time to Inundate it. This is a judicial conference. That’s why we have those.
Mandelblit: Inundate it, inundate it.
Naveh: You’re coming, at least sit there. Okay… don’t come straight to the ceremony. Appearance is meaningful.
Mandelblit: Listen, get it together.
Naveh: Because I want you to sit with me. I have something to say there… Is this acceptable to you?
Mandelblit: Sure, of course.
Naveh: But you can’t be on the panel?
Mandelblit: I explained to you that there’s a problem. I think I have a problem. Because it touches on….
Naveh: So who are we going to put there? This idiot, this Mr. Shai [Nitzan] we’ll put there? I don’t feel like putting him there.
Mandelblit: No, why? Put [Deputy Attorney General] Raz Nizri maybe. I don’t know. I need to think.
Naveh: What do you think? Who to put from your department?
Mandelblit: Raz Nazri.
Naveh: Raz Nizri?
Mandelblit: He will have opinions this way and that, can be. More complicated.
Meanwhile, Effi Naveh Naveh became embroiled in his own criminal indictment filed after he helped his partner pass skip the passport control at the airport. Also, Naveh, who was then on the panel for appointing new judges, is suspected of receiving a sexual bribe from a candidate for a judicial appointment.
Naveh claimed and continues to claim, that the case against him was the product of Shai Nitzan’s revenge. This is because Nitzan knew that as long as Naveh remained on the Judicial-appointments panel Nitzan’s path to the Supreme Court was blocked.
Shortly after Effi Naveh’s interview with the Uvda investigative program, in which he said he did not think Nitzan deserved to advance to the position of Supreme Court justice, Nitzan took the extremely unusual and controversial step of confirming the immunity of an Army Radio journalist who broke into Naveh’s cell phone.
Naveh’s claims that Nitzan is persecuting him over a vendetta are not news, but the fact that the Attorney General also spoke in such terms about his state attorney is pretty big news. And the fact that the same AG, who wears a yarmulke and everything, uses the vocabulary of a street punk on the phone, is its own quaint bit of news.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin responded to the story by claiming that “a situation in which the Attorney General himself testifies that the State Attorney is holding him by the throat is unprecedented in its severity. When the State Attorney holds the throat of his superior, the meaning is simple – the decision-making process is fundamentally flawed, and the independence of the latter’s judgment is severely impaired.”
“When all this is happening while conducting improper investigative proceedings against an elected prime minister, the damage caused to Israel’s democratic decision making is fatal,” Levin concluded and added: “The justice system is once again emerging as a system in which the fundamental failures run deep. A system that instead of cleaning up its ranks, its seniors are busy hiding and covering up for one another. There is no escape from conducting a comprehensive and independent examination of the system’s ills and the conduct during the prime minister’s investigations. It is essential for the cleanliness of the system, essential for the public’s trust in it, and it is essential to ensure that democratic decision making is not thwarted in improper ways.”
Homeland Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has attacked the system many times in the past, even in violation of a Supreme Court ban on the publication of details regarding a sensitive case, on Tuesday night responded with a short response that must have felt good to tweet: “I told you so.”
Coalition Chairman Mickey Zohar tweeted: “Thank God, justice has come out. It is clear that Mandelblit was blackmailed by Shai Nitzan to file the indictments against the Prime Minister. Now even the abolition of the indictments, issuing a public apology by these two, and the resignation of Mandelblit will not correct the terrible and unnecessary injustice done to Netanyahu and the Likud.”
OK, that was a little over the top, but anything goes in love and mostly in war. Mandelblit’s office issued a statement clarifying that the delay in closing the case against him was because the state attorney who was in charge of closing the case was also the subordinate of the attorney general, which meant that closing the case would constitute a conflict of interest.
“The formal decision will not be made by any of the state prosecutors as long as they are subordinates of Mandelblit,” the statement concluded.
It’s logical, it makes sense, but it is not even remotely connected to the string of taped phone conversations in which the AG was whining and cursing about his subordinate refusing to do the right thing by closing his damned case already.
Or, as the immortal Ricky Ricardo put it most succinctly: “Lucy you got some ‘splainin to do.”