A recently dismissed senior officer in the Israel Police claimed Monday that top members of the country’s legal establishment were willing to overlook illicit activity by then-police chief Roni Alsheich due to fears that intervening in the matter would damage efforts to prosecute former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a primetime interview that aired on Channel 12, former deputy head of the Police Internal Investigations Department Moshe Saada said that Alsheich tampered with his unit’s investigation into the fatal police shooting of a Bedouin man — so that the findings would be consistent with the commissioner’s initial announcement that the victim had been a terrorist who sought to run over officers at the scene.
Hours after the interview aired, reports emerged that Saada was actively considering running in a right-wing political party in the coming November election.
One of the cases Saada spoke of was that of Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an. Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police in January 2017, after officers arrived to oversee the demolition of houses, including his own, in Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Bedouin village that the state was razing to clear the way for a new Jewish town.
Soon afterward, Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police. He lost control of his car, which accelerated downhill and rammed into a group of officers, killing one of them. He was then shot again by police, who assumed he had rammed the officers intentionally, and died.
Saada told Channel 12 that shortly after the incident, he attended a meeting with his boss Uri Carmel, along with then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and Alsheich, during which the latter exploded in anger and threatened to disband the Internal Investigations Department if it sought to question his account of what took place in Umm al-Hiran.
Saada claimed that Mandelblit shook in fear during the meeting and sought to calm down the police commissioner. Nitzan, Saaada said, recognized that there had been no terror attack in Umm al-Hiran and had been willing to acknowledge this behind closed doors but did not act against Alsheich.
Asked to explain the conduct of both Mandelblit and Nitzan, Saada told Channel 12 there was “a simple reason.”
“[They had] one sole consideration: the Netanyahu cases, which at that time became the most important thing,” he said. Saada argued that because Alsheich’s police were investigating then-prime minister Netanyahu in a series of corruption probes, the country’s top legal officials were willing to overlook transgressions on the part of the police chief amid fears that damage to the commissioner’s credibility would harm their case against the premier.
As Saada sees it, Alsheich considered the Police Internal Investigations Department to be a “hostile organization” and he adopted “criminal” norms to subvert its influence.
The former senior police officer described Nitzan as smart and sharp but also as someone who was willing to sacrifice truth and justice in order to reach certain political goals.
Saada claimed that the investigations into Netanyahu impacted other decisions made by Alsheich during his tenure including one particularly controversial one to back the former head of the Lahav 433 anti-graft unit head, Roni Rittman, amid significant allegations of sexual harassment.
Saada said Alsheich sought to tarnish the credibility of one of Rittman’s accusers and even acted to bring back the disgraced officer after the latter claimed that the allegations were engineered by Netanyahu because his unit was investigating the prime minister. Saada said there was no truth to Rittman’s claims but Alsheich decided to back Rittman anyway.
Responding to the interview, Alsheich said the allegations against him were baseless and made by a disgruntled former officer with an ax to grind. Alsheich insisted that he had instituted significant reforms as police chief and valued the Police Internal Investigations Department as an integral part of the force.
Nitzan also argued that Saada was motivated by frustrations over having been fired and passed up to serve as head of the Internal Investigations Department in a separate statement responding to the interview.
Saada was removed from his post earlier this year by the current head of the Internal Investigations Department, Keren Bar Menachem. In 2018, Bar Menachem was appointed to head the unit, beating out Saada who had been serving as acting chief for over a year.