Israeli PM's choice for A-G to decide on filing charges

Mr Avichai Mandelblit was once Mr Bejamin Netanyahu's Cabinet secretary and was the Prime Minister's candidate for attorney-general.
Mr Avichai Mandelblit was once Mr Bejamin Netanyahu's Cabinet secretary and was the Prime Minister's candidate for attorney-general.

JERUSALEM • Israel's Attorney-General, Mr Avichai Mandelblit, was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's favoured candidate for the country's top legal job. Now, Mr Netanyahu's fate lies in Mr Mandelblit's hands.

Critics suspect that Mr Mandelblit, having previously served as Mr Netanyahu's Cabinet secretary and once widely considered a Netanyahu loyalist, remains beholden to the prime minister who promoted him. Admirers say the law is Mr Mandelblit's only agenda and his moral compass.

Either way, Mr Mandelblit, who rose from relative obscurity as a military prosecutor, is likely to become the most scrutinised person in Israel in the coming months.

After the Israeli police recommended on Tuesday that Mr Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption cases, Mr Mandelblit became the one who will ultimately decide, in consultation with state prosecutors, whether the evidence warrants taking Mr Netanyahu to court.

Mr Mandelblit rose through the ranks of the military justice system to become the military advocate general. He was catapulted into the political limelight when Mr Netanyahu appointed him as his Cabinet secretary in 2013. In his mid-50s, and a father of six, Mr Mandelblit is known to be an avid soccer fan. He became an observant Jew in his mid-20s and wears a black skullcap.

His appointment two years ago to the post of attorney-general was criticised by some legal experts as too swift a transition into a role that requires absolute independence as the guardian of the law and the public interest.

Although Mr Netanyahu has blamed the left and the news media of plotting to oust him by legal means because they cannot beat him at the ballot box, Mr Mandelblit hardly fits the profile of a politically motivated insurgent intent on bringing down the government, often described as the most right-wing and religious in Israel's history.

On the contrary, Mr Mandelblit, who has closely followed the police investigations all along, has been accused of dragging his feet to stall them. What started as small, weekly demonstrations on Saturday nights outside Mr Mandelblit's house in the city of Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, recently grew into several mass rallies in Tel Aviv against corruption and what many of the protesters saw as procrastination by the authorities.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Israeli PM's choice for A-G to decide on filing charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe