On Wednesday, Israel will mark 70 years since the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, a Jewish one and an Arab one.
Nothing that takes place in the Knesset can and should spoil the natural joy over the Hebrew nation’s independence. But 70 years later, it’s hard not to think about the short distance between the main headlines “A Hebrew state” and “Disgrace,” between the dancing on the streets and the opened champagne bottles.
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The purpose of the “recommendations bill,” which passed its first reading at the Knesset on Monday, after aggressive physical pressure from the coalition, is not just to interfere with the media coverage of the criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Its real purpose is to disrupt the work of the police and State Attorney’s Office, and weaken the position of police investigators—those who sat in front of the suspects in these affairs and are more familiar with the smallest details in Netanyahu’s investigations than anyone else.
This isn’t my own estimate. These are the words of State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who is firmly against the “recommendations bill”: “We firmly oppose the bill and consider it extremely harmful… The public must understand that the police and the State Attorney’s Office work hand in hand. Hearing the opinion of the investigator in the case is highly important.”
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh made the following comment about the bill: “When it comes to a State Attorney’s Office decision, the police don’t submit recommendations but rather a summary of the case, indicating where there is evidence for an indictment and where there isn’t… The results of an investigation cannot be published without summarizing it first.”
Yedioth Ahronoth reported recently that the state attorney and the attorney general had said in closed forums that “the bill barring recommendations from investigations is a critical blow to the police’s investigation work.”
Who visited the office of Knesset Member David Amsalem, the bill’s initiator, while the bill was being discussed? The prime minister’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz. Amsalem said Horowitz was there to “fry schnitzel and cut salad.” He was definitely there for a salad—to turn Israeli democracy into a salad.
It was clear to every member of the coalition that the “recommendations bill” was directed by the Prime Minister’s Residence, which made sure that it would also apply to investigations that have already begun, including Netanyahu’s investigation. If that isn’t the case, why was Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon forced to support a law he clearly doesn’t approve of? To satisfy MK Amsalem? If the prime minister has no problem promoting this law, why do his people keep stressing that he’s not involved in it?
We have a person here who is suspected of criminal offenses, fraud and breach of trust, and perhaps even bribery. His people are actively promoting a law that will affect the ability of the State Attorney’s Office to make a proper decision on an indictment. There is an explicit name for a person suspected of criminal offenses who tries to disrupt police investigations, whether on his own or through anyone else. And it is also considered an offense according to criminal law: Section 244 of the Penal Law states that “a person who intentionally tries to prevent or disrupt a legal proceeding or lead to obstruction of justice, whether by thwarting the summoning of a witness, concealing evidence or in any other manner, shall be liable to three years in prison.”
The attorney general, the police commissioner and the state attorney all agree that the “recommendations bill” harms the police’s work, and the coalition agrees that the prime minister is behind this bill. Is the prime minister trying to disrupt his investigation by enacting a law at the Knesset? That’s a question only the police can answer. It should be clear to the law authorities, that with all the inconvenience involved in this matter, they must launch an investigation into the obstruction of legal proceedings and summon the prime minister’s people, the prime minister himself and the bill’s initiators (MKs David Bitan and David Amsalem), and hear exactly which conversations were or weren’t held.
We should also take note of the coalition’s statement that Netanyahu will not take part in the vote due to “a suspected conflict of interest.” Even they understand how problematic this developing situation is. We are witnessing a criminal act, but bringing the criminal threshold to a debate actually reduces the severity of the whole issue. It brings down the fundamental discussion. And this is its essence: The “recommendations bill” is a deep low and a complete loss of a sense of shame.
Had Ehud Olmert initiated such a law as a prime minister suspected of criminal offenses, the road to the Knesset would have been blocked by thousands of right-wing protestors in an effort to stop the vote, and rightfully so.
Only the public can save the State of Israel’s book of laws from this stain, and primarily Likud and Kahlon supporters who refuse to accept this stench. The Land of Israel is bought with pain, but democracy is bought day after day with the red lines drawn by its citizens, through the feedback they give the MKs they voted for. This is where we must draw a bright red line. The number of the Knesset switchboard, by the way, is 972-2-6753333.
Nadav Eyal is Channel 10’s chief international correspondent.
Via Ynet News