Government will not consider bill handing justice minister control of cop-probing unit

Seemingly shelved bill ‘a serious violation of the independence of the Department of Internal Police Investigations,’ says Israel Bar Association chief Amit Becher

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Police officers stand guard during a protest outside the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers stand guard during a protest outside the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Less than a day after reportedly allowing the advancement of a bill that would place a police internal affairs unit under the authority of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the government has indicated that it does not support the controversial legislation.

The bill transferring authority over the Department of Internal Police Investigations (DIPI), put forth by freshman Likud MK Dan Ilouz, was slated to be presented to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation for approval on Sunday but has now been shelved, the Israel Hayom daily reported.

Asked about the report, a spokesman for Levin, who chairs the ministerial committee, said it was not a matter of a decision not to advance the bill, explaining that many proposals are regularly submitted for consideration by the committee and are not accepted.

“Until the agenda of the committee is published, the proposals being raised are not final,” he said.

Lawmakers cannot place legislation before the committee without Levin’s permission.

Approval by the committee would have meant that the government stands behind the legislation, which has been widely panned by the opposition as part of a government project aimed at handing politicians the reins over key law enforcement bodies.

Head of the Israel Bar Association Amit Becher speaks at a hearing of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, March 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel Bar Association (IBA) chief Amit Becher on Tuesday called the bill “a serious violation of the independence of the DIPI,” and said it would mark the revival of the government’s largely paused judicial overhaul.

“The Department of Internal Police Investigations is a very important body in a proper democratic administration at any time and especially these days, when the minister in charge of the police is a messianic and dangerous official who is trying to take over the police,” he posted on X, referring to far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Currently, the DIPI operates under the purview of the State Attorney’s Office, a separate organizational unit within the Justice Ministry. The bill would have seen the department instead report directly to a cabinet minister and come under the supervision of the Justice Ministry’s director-general.

The department is currently tasked with investigating suspected crimes committed by police officers and employees of the Shin Bet security agency, and can in certain cases conduct criminal and disciplinary investigations into wrongdoing by civil service employees. Under the new law, the DIPI’s powers would have been expanded to allow probes into state prosecutors.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a court hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court on May 21, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And while the text of the bill stated that “the department will be independent and will operate with full freedom of action in the exercise of its professional powers,” critics have argued that the move will neuter the DIPI by subjecting it to political influence.

Illouz has defended the law by arguing that it is actually intended to strengthen the department’s independence, calling its subordination to the minister “purely administrative.”

“The law actually emphasizes the professional independence of the Defense Ministry even vis-a-vis the prosecutor’s office, speaks explicitly about professional independence, and strengthens the DIPI,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

In May 2023, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman called on the country’s leadership to consider removing the DIPI from the aegis of the State Attorney’s Office, warning of potential conflicts of interest that hamper its independence.

The bill to subordinate the unit under Levin’s authority was initially proposed last year by Likud MK and former deputy head of the DIPI Moshe Saada and approved in a preliminary reading but was never passed into law.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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