AG defends police, slams efforts to ‘weaken public trust’ amid Netanyahu probes

AG defends police, slams efforts to ‘weaken public trust’ amid Netanyahu probes

Mandelblit pans ‘false reporting,’ tells Knesset event honoring cops that accusations the force is influenced by politics ‘have no basis whatsoever’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a Knesset event honoring Israel's police force, January 5, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a Knesset event honoring Israel's police force, January 5, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)

Responding to public criticism of police conduct in the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit launched a passionate defense of the force on Monday, slamming those who would “weaken the public trust in the rule of law.”

Speaking at a Knesset event in honor of the Israel Police, Mandelblit said that claims it is being swayed by political considerations “have no basis whatsoever.”

“Unfortunately the reality is not always accurately and fairly portrayed in the public sphere, and we have sometimes seen worrying trends,” he told some 200 top police officers at the event.

“Recently we have seen various attempts to suggest police are driven by outside influences on their work, and to therefore damage the public’s trust in the force and in their work,” Mandelblit charged. “The police is extremely limited in its ability to respond to such insinuations against it. I reject those claims entirely; they have no basis whatsoever.”

In recent months, Netanyahu has played down the significance of expected future recommendations by police to state prosecutors that he be indicted in two graft probes against him, criticized the police’s handling of the investigations and suggested that Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich was behind a series of leaks to the media about the cases.

Israeli Chief of Police Roni Alsheich, left, seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich’s honour, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I would like to offer special praise for Commissioner Alsheich and the police officers heading various units in the force, including the investigations and intelligence unit,” Mandelblit said in an apparent reference to the investigations handled by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit.

“Police do all they can in order to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice. They work tirelessly for the good of the public above any other consideration,” he said.

He added that “public trust in the police is one of the most important factors to being able to enforce the law. It is the moral basis for enforcing the rule of law. We must preserve full public trust in the police and prevent efforts to weaken the public trust in the rule of law.”

Mandelblit had said last week that the two investigations into Netanyahu were in their final stages and dismissed media reports saying he’s been holding up the probes.

Menny Naftali, center, and Eldad Yaniv, far right, are among the main organizers of a weekly protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in front of the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva, August 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Every Saturday night for over a year, demonstrations have been held outside Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, alleging that he is stalling in the corruption probes against Netanyahu. They have spawned much bigger anti-corruption rallies, held in Tel Aviv and across the country.

The investigations into Netanyahu have continued for over year. In so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding the multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including his personal attorney, have been arrested or questioned.

Speaking after Mandelblit, Alsheich, the police chief, who has dismissed Netanyahu’s attacks against him, again defended the investigations, saying that “only a police force that is true to its principles has a right to exist.”

“The strength of the country is based on the strength of the police,” he said emphatically.

Also addressing the gathering, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein expressed his support for Alsheich and the force, but noted the need to limit leaks to the media.

“The State of Israel’s supreme interest is an independent, strong police force that trusts in itself and which we all trust,” Edelstein said. “We believe in the police force and salute the officers, but at this event I wish to say one other thing — the police’s job is done best when it is done quietly, with humility.”

Turning to Alsheich, the Knesset speaker added, “When you entered your position some two years ago, I was very pleased to hear you declare that you would wage war against the major problem called leaking. This is a very difficult battle to change the organizational culture, and I ask that you carry on with it.”

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein at a Knesset event honoring Israel’s police force, January 5, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)

“No one knows more than I that leaks do not exist only in Israel Police, but there must not be a direct link between the television studios and the interrogation rooms. It undermines Israeli citizens’ trust in the Israel Police and slowly cracks the objectivity its people have acquired with great effort,” he said.

Last week, Edelstein was recorded harshly criticizing Netanyahu’s attacks on the media and on his political opponents, and warning that the ruling Likud party could suffer a major setback in the next election.

In a recording of a private meeting aired by the Kan public broadcaster, Edelstein could be heard saying, “We will find ourselves in the opposition if things continue like this.”

“Likud is in a very serious problem,” he said, adding that he “would be happy if about half of the MKs just went home.”

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