The incoming head of a top Knesset committee is calling for a probe into allegations that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered staffers to shred documents at the Prime Minister’s Office before he handed power to successor Naftali Bennett this week.
Gilad Kariv, a freshman Labor MK slated to lead the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee, said the alleged activity would not only be illegal but a “total deviation from standard operating procedures.”
“These actions represent a blow to government continuity and could stymie the orderly and proper transfer of power from one government to the next,” Kariv wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, requesting he open a probe into the allegations. “This matter demands a swift and fundamental investigation as it touches on the heart of democratic life … and no less so also matters of national security.”
Kariv also asked Mandelblit to issue clear guidelines to government staff on prohibitions against destroying official documents.
On Thursday, the Haaretz daily reported that aides in the PMO had shredded some documents that had been stored in safes in a part of the office where Netanyahu and other top officials had desks, at the behest of the Likud leader. The alleged act took place on Sunday, hours before the Knesset voted to install a new government headed by Bennett, removing Netanyahu from power after 12 years.
Meretz MK Yair Golan also urged a probe into the shredding claims Friday, calling on the police chief and head of the Shin Bet to look into the possibility that it involved tampering with incriminating evidence. Golan was likely referring to the submarine scandal, known as Case 3000. in which several people with ties to Netanyahu have been accused of taking bribes to help facilitate a massive naval contract.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, but several lawmakers — including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is set to become prime minister in 2023 — have called for Netanyahu’s possible role in the affair to be examined. Netanyahu is also on trial in three criminal cases related to his time as head of government.
Likud has denied the shredding allegations as “totally false,” and the PMO said it was unaware of any shredding activity but would check into the claims.
On Friday, Likud again denied the allegations, saying in a tweet that the claims were “absurd” and that all documents had been preserved digitally.
“The media which always attacked us by claiming that it is its job to criticize the government is now working to give the regime a pass and attack the opposition with false and ridiculous claims,” the party said in a tweet, which was shared by Netanyahu.
It’s not known what documents were allegedly shredded, though according to Haaretz, the safes they were stored in usually held documents relating to officials’ schedules, routine government work and more.
Yaakov Lozowick, who was the state’s chief archivist from 2011 to 2018, told Army Radio Friday that if the materials were shredded, there may not have been a digital copy.
“If they are shredding documents in the prime minister’s bureau, it would seem it’s not information that other people have, so it stands to reason that we’re talking about the most sensitive materials,” he said.
On Monday, Netanyahu handed the Prime Minister’s Office and its formal powers over to Bennett in an unusually terse and short meeting, which ended without a traditional ceremony, handshake, or photo-op, an indication of the animus Netanyahu harbors toward Bennett, his own one-time chief of staff.
According to a Haaretz report Friday citing unnamed senior sources said incoming PMO staff were in “serious shock” over the slapdash nature of the handover and lack of information given to the new team.
“There’s nothing. No workflow procedures, no orderly organizational culture, important posts are unstaffed,” the source was quoted saying. “Critical things for defense and the economy were inconceivably neglected. There’s no documentation of the work, not even regarding the Iranian nuclear issue and ties with the White House.”
Likud denied the allegations to the paper, saying that Netanyahu had “left the office in the most orderly state it was ever in.”