Opposition leaders flay Netanyahu over attack on police

Lapid calls PM’s latest diatribe ‘a new record for total madness,’ while Gabbay accuses him of heading ‘an industry of government corruption’

Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay speaks at a press conference with former senior security officials in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay speaks at a press conference with former senior security officials in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Senior opposition politicians berated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday over his claims that investigators are engaged in a conspiracy to topple him by falsifying corruption allegations in a series of graft probes he is being questioned in.

Netanyahu said on Facebook earlier Wednesday that police had been pressuring suspects to turn state’s witness and lie about allegations against him.

“There is no ‘state’s witness industry’ in Israel. There is an industry of government corruption headed by none other than Netanyahu himself,” said Zionist Union Avi Gabbay. “The people of Israel are entitled to a leader that strengthens Israel and doesn’t attack its legal authorities.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also sharply criticized Netanyahu over his remarks, saying they set “a new record for total madness.”

“With all understanding of his distress, the prime minister can’t inform his citizens that the police, prosecutors and courts are engaged in advancing ‘delusional lies’ and mustn’t be trusted,” Lapid said.

“A prime minister is supposed to strengthen the public’s trust in state institutions and not harm them.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations event in Jerusalem on February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister, slammed Netanyahu for damaging trust in the police.

“The Netanyahu era will be remembered as a time when the prime minister turned lies into truth and truth into lies, and the government attacked the rule law. There will be a lot to repair after him.”

In a Facebook post and parallel video he posted, Netanyahu accused investigators of engaging in a conspiracy to bring him down that includes encouraging false testimony and illegally pressuring witnesses.

Taking aim at the practice of using state’s witnesses — suspects involved in a case who agree to give testimony implicating others of potentially more serious crimes in return for lighter punishment — Netanyahu said that innocent people are put under “intense pressure and told to lie” about false allegations.

“They take people whom they accuse of having committed some crime. They put them under custody, put them through horrors, and say to them, ‘Your life is over. Your family’s life is over. We will take nearly every thing from you, your freedom too. You want to be saved from all this? There is one way — to disgrace Netanyahu,'” the prime minister said in a stunning accusation against the Israel Police.

“It doesn’t matter if you tell delusional lies, the main thing is that you disgrace Netanyahu,” he continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the police over the use of state’s witnesses in a video clip filmed from the US, March 7, 2018. (Screenshot)

The comments come two day​s​ after a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, agreed to testify against his former boss, the third former close aide to the prime minister to agree to cooperate with police.

As part of the state’s witness agreement he signed, Hefetz, suspected of bribery in the case, was told that he would not serve prison time or pay a fine for his actions.

He has promised to provide police with incriminating text messages and recordings of Netanyahu and his wife in several criminal cases, including the Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, and the so-called Case 1000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu received gifts from businessmen in exchange for favors.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich defended judicial officials’ deals with former aides to Netanyahu, saying state’s witnesses were more valuable for fighting corruption.

“I will repeat what the state prosecutor said — ‘State’s witnesses are one of the most important tools for preventing crime organizations and public corruption,'” Alsheich said, quoting State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. “They tell the full story, a stronger, stable and open testimony, of course backed up by other proof, greatly strengthens the case.”

Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)

Hefetz joins Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, who also signed a deal last month to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate the prime minister in the affair.

The so-called Case 4000 investigation involves suspicions that Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him financially.

Elovitch is suspected of giving and receiving bribes and illicit favors worth “up to a billion shekels” — more than a quarter of a billion US dollars — prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said last week during a hearing. Netanyahu and Elovitch have dismissed the allegation.

Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s chief of staff for a year from mid-2014, last year turned state’s witness and agreed to provide information about those two cases in return for a lighter punishment for separate charges against him relating to an alleged conflict of interest over a business he held.

Netanyahu, who has denied the charges in all of the corruption cases against him, concluded his Facebook post by saying that the latest developments would not effect his work as prime minister.

“They will continue what they are doing and I will continue what I am doing, with historic activity here [in the United States] for the sake of the state of Israel. The coming days will tell ​how important this visit was for the security of Israel,” he said of his five-day visit to the US that included talks with President Trump about the possibility of annulling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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