Mandelblit Threatens Investigation After Journalist Given Access to Cabinet Meeting

YERUSHALAYIM -
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. (Flash90)

Cabinet meetings that are held by phone conference are being leaked in real time to the media, and this has prompted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to enter the picture and threaten a criminal investigation.

Mandelblit sent a letter on Wednesday to the government ministers, Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announcing that if the leaks continue he will not hesitate to launch a criminal investigation to locate the leaker.

In his letter, Mandelblit notes that seemingly one of the meeting’s participants is allowing a journalist listen in to the phone call, with the journalist publishing quotes and information from the meeting in real time, which impairs the government’s functioning in these days when meetings cannot be held in a closed room.

During the Cabinet meetings on Sunday and Wednesday, a reporter managed to report quotes in real time, as the meeting was still happening.

In both cases, the reporter was seemingly able to listen in on meetings held by ministers to discuss the release of restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

In his letter, Mandelblit noted that Braverman himself had addressed the issue with those on the line at the meeting on Wednesday after repeated violations and that the journalist had taunted Braverman in real time on social media that he would maintain his access.

While leaks from Cabinet meetings are common, it is rare for a journalist to be given nearly unrestricted access to discussions held behind closed doors. Minutes from Cabinet meetings are considered top secret and any leak from them is technically illegal.

The Justice Ministry in February drew up new guidelines for launching criminal investigations into leakers. Under the guidelines, Israel’s prosecutors are ordered to take care to balance the importance of the public’s right to know and journalistic confidentiality, with the needs of an investigation and the damage to national security. The Justice Ministry said only serious cases should yield a criminal probe.

If the information is deemed damaging, “as a rule, a criminal investigation will be opened, even if there is public interest in the revelation of the information.”

Since the issue is “sensitive and complex,” only the attorney general or state attorney may open an investigation, according to the Justice Ministry.

The guidelines also state that in some cases, people exposed to the source of the information could be forced to undergo a polygraph test, under court order. Polygraph tests are widely used in Israeli criminal proceedings.