Pushing back against accusations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that cops investigating him for corruption were part of a plot to topple him, acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen on Sunday gave his full backing to the investigators saying their work was carried out with professionalism.
Cohen visited the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit that led the probes into the prime minister. Last week Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he intends to press charges against Netanyahu in three cases, drawing attacks from the prime minister and his supporters on the legitimacy of the law enforcement community.
“The attorney-general’s decision reflects the professionalism and thoroughness of the investigation, as well as the great faith in the investigators and the investigation,” Cohen said. “I came here today to support you.”
Netanyahu and his supporters have accused police and prosecutors of leading a “tainted” process against him in an effort to carry out a “coup” and remove him from power.
“We must faithfully fulfill our public mission, expose crime and public corruption at all levels, thoroughly investigate every case of corruption, and reach the truth with every investigation, without letting slander or accusations of any kind interfere or otherwise affect our integrity and the performance of our duties,” Cohen told officers.
“Thanks to your dedicated work our society is safer [and] cleaner of organized crime and public corruption,” he said.
His remarks came as dozens of former top officials in the Israel Police warned Sunday that accusations of criminal behavior directed at the law enforcement community weaken the police force and the country’s stability.
Eighty former commissioners and deputy commissioners penned a letter in which they warned against “any attempt to undermine police resilience and… statements that jeopardize the stability of Israeli democracy.”
“In recent days we have watched with great concern the unrestrained attacks against the Israel Police and its officers, and likewise against the law enforcement establishment and its gatekeepers,” read the letter sent to Cohen, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan.
“We call for the violent discourse against police and law enforcement agencies to be removed from the agenda — it carries the danger of breaking down police authority and tells the country’s citizens that it is permissible to lose one’s discretion when in contact with law enforcement,” the Retired Police Commissioners and Major General’s Forum wrote.
While not explicitly naming Netanyahu or any of his supporters, the authors noted that generations of police have investigated public officials over the years since the establishment of the state, and that the force has always been “politically colorblind.”
Senior allies of Netanyahu on Saturday continued to assail the legal establishment in the wake of the attorney general’s decision to indict the premier in three corruption cases, calling senior prosecutors criminals and Mandelblit a spineless puppet.
Communications Minister David Amsalem reiterated Netanyahu’s claim that the decision to indict him was a “coup” attempt, singling out Nitzan and Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the cases against the premier. He also slammed Mandelblit.
“Shai Nitzan needs to be tried because this is a coup,” Amsalem said in an interview on Channel 12 news. “In my opinion Liat Ben-Ari is a woman who needs to be in prison.”
Amsalem was particularly dismissive of Mandelblit, whom Netanyahu appointed as attorney general, saying that move had proven to be a mistake.
“Mandelblit does not have the spine to stand up to them,” Amsalem said, accusing the AG — whom he described as going around with the “countenance of a tortured martyr” — of “reading out whatever Shai Naitzan writes for him.”
Amsalem also accused police investigators of behaving with the “norms of organized crime.”
Also Saturday, Justice Minister Amir Ohana attacked the state prosecution, for which he is responsible, saying it acted as it pleased, with no oversight.
“There are prosecutors breaking the law and nobody checks them,” he said. “I call on the state ombudsman to delve into this and check these accusations.”
Both Amsalem and Ohana were appointed as ministers in recent months in transitional governments largely due to their very public loyalty to Netanyahu.
Shortly after Mandelblit’s announcement on Thursday that he intended to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases on the counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking a “coup” against him.
Netanyahu claimed the process had been tainted by various improprieties and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him. He demanded “investigating the investigators.”
After being pilloried by opponents and media figures who accused him of undermining the rule of law, Netanyahu issued a second statement on Friday in which he promised he would ultimately accept the court’s decisions, but continued to demand a probe into police and the prosecution.
The prime minister has long claimed the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” instigated by the media, the left and law enforcement.
Cohen was initially appointed acting police chief last year as a 45-day stopgap measure as the government sought to bring forward a new candidate. But the failure of two rounds of elections since then to produce an elected government has stymied those plans. Governments traditionally avoid appointing top officials in the civil service in the run-up to elections and with the country possible heading to a third vote Cohen has continued to hold the position.