The outgoing deputy attorney general has backed a plea bargain in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, saying both sides have an incentive to reach one and that all Israelis would benefit from it in light of the “extreme” and “dangerous” public discourse the proceedings are eliciting.
Raz Nizri announced he was leaving the Justice Ministry in January, after failing to make a shortlist of candidates to become attorney general.
In a pair of television interviews with Channel 13 news and the Kan public broadcaster aired on Saturday, Nizri said the polarized discourse regarding the ongoing trial was compromising public trust in Israel’s institutions.
“I always called it a discussion between Netanyahu’s worshipers and his haters. The worshipers, as far as they’re concerned, in every situation Netanyahu is innocent and persecuted. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s haters believe that an investigation was never needed and he should have been put in jail immediately,” he told Channel 13.
“These are populistic approaches that make public discourse more extreme and increase criticism of law enforcement while lowering public trust in law enforcement. This is dangerous, of course,” he said.
Nizri suggested that reaching a plea bargain in the former prime minister’s ongoing trial would be in the interest of both the defense and the prosecution.
“It would constitute proper risk management by both sides,” Nizri argued. “It would also be beneficial to the public and the state,” he added, noting that another reason would be curbing the extreme and often violent nature of the public debate surrounding the trial.
Former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Netanyahu, 72, is on trial in three separate graft cases: for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.
He denies all allegations against him, and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the leftist media.
Nizri told Kan he still stands behind his stance that Netanyahu should not have been charged with bribery in Case 4000, and shouldn’t have been charged at all in Case 2000.
However, he declined to go into specifics during the interviews and said that then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit had made his decision based on “comprehensive and serious discussions.” Nizri added: “The decision was made, on some matters my opinion was accepted, on some matters it wasn’t. That is completely fine, that’s how things are done.”
In May, Netanyahu reportedly stated he would not consider any plea bargain in his ongoing corruption trial. A plea deal would likely include a conviction on offenses that would force the former prime minister out of public office.
Nizri also said some of Netanyahu’s statements regarding Israel’s judicial system are “extremely dangerous.”
Nizri was involved in many of the legal proceedings that led to Netanyahu’s indictment and ongoing trial in three graft cases, and experienced first-hand the former prime minister’s verbal assaults on the Israeli judicial system.
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers including Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi and Yoav Gallant. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)
Along with Netanyahu’s own allegations that he was being framed by a corrupt Israeli state prosecution, “we started seeing attacks from the right on the judicial system, dangerous attacks that tried to politically defame [the system] by accusing it of frameups,” Nizri told Channel 13 in an interview marking his retirement.
“If I’d thought people were being framed I wouldn’t have stayed in the system for even a minute and wouldn’t have defended it,” he stated.
“We definitely reached situations where we should have said: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you can’t do something like that.’”
Appearing in court for the beginning of his corruption trial in May 2020, Netanyahu ripped into police, prosecutors and the judicial system as a whole, referring to the trial as a “political coup against the will of the people.”
“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged at the time and has continued to maintain.
In April last year, then-prime minister Netanyahu openly defied forceful warnings by then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and tried to push through the appointment of Likud MK Ofir Akunis as justice minister despite the move being illegal.
That attempt was eventually halted by the High Court of Justice.
Some of the things Netanyahu said, Nizri argued, were “false, dangerous and inciting statements, because they undermined the basic foundations of the rule of law and democracy.”
He added: “Not respecting the position of the attorney general is a slippery slope in regards to the damage it causes the rule of law and the democratic system in Israel.”