Ministers vote to investigate police internal investigations, overriding AG

Ministers vote to investigate police internal investigations, overriding AG

Committee to probe purported failures of Justice Ministry unit, ostensibly to look into conduct toward Ethiopian community, but may end up being used to defend Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 9, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 9, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The cabinet voted Sunday to establish a committee to investigate the police’s internal investigations unit, despite strong opposition from the attorney general, who charged it could be construed as the result of illegal political horse-trading.

The establishment of the committee to probe the Police Internal Investigations Department, a division of the Justice Ministry that conducts investigations of alleged misdeeds by the police, had been a key demand of former Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan, who jumped ship to Likud just hours before the deadline for registering party slates on January 15.

It was brought to the cabinet by Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud member.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had said the move could amount to “election bribery,” a crime under article 122 of the Elections Law, which prohibits offering direct benefits to individuals to affect their vote or to influence them to influence others.

Likud sought to woo Yevarkan, a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community, in order to stump for votes from Ethiopian Jews, who had turned their backs on the ruling party in last year’s elections following a series of high-profile incidents of police violence and amid ongoing concerns over government neglect and discrimination toward the community.

Then-Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan in May 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Yevarkan demanded an investigation into the PIID over what many Ethiopian Israelis say is its overly lenient handling of cases of police violence toward Ethiopian Israelis, in particular following the killing of Solomon Tekah, 19, by an off-duty officer last June.

Prosecutors believe the committee won’t be asked to investigate cases of police clashes with Ethiopian Israelis, however, but rather to launch an inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that three corruption cases against him are an “attempted coup” by the police and state prosecution, a claim that has become central to Likud’s election campaign ahead of the March 2 vote.

The Likud campaign is believed to be planning to point to such an inquiry as evidence that Netanyahu’s claim of a conspiracy against him is well-founded.

While Mandelblit has not opposed the establishment of the committee in principle, he has warned that doing so under an interim, unelected government ahead of elections may be illegal.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin arrives at a Likud party meeting in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a letter Mandelblit sent to Ohana last week, the attorney general also said establishing the committee in exchange for Yevarkan’s political realignment could amount to election bribery.

At the cabinet meeting Sunday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin accused Mandelblit of a double standard for prohibiting forming a cabinet investigative committee while allowing the Knesset to establish a Knesset House Committee to consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request ahead of the elections.

Levin noted that the Knesset was permitted “to establish committees close to the elections in a process that concerned the very heart of the electoral process, and in a way that denies a person a basic right given to him under law” — a reference to Netanyahu’s legal right as a member of Knesset to request immunity.

The legal opinion allowing the Knesset to form the House Committee did not come from Mandelblit, but from the Knesset’s own legal adviser, Eyal Yinon.

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