PM: Commissioner's allegations 'shocking' and 'false'

Opposition: Netanyahu ‘acting like a criminal’ in attack on police chief

Gabbay, Lapid slam PM for tirade against Alsheich as corruption investigations near completion and political temperatures rise

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Labor leader Avi Gabbay, left, attending a news conference in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2017; Yair Lapid attending a conference in Herzliya, June 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90; Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
Labor leader Avi Gabbay, left, attending a news conference in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2017; Yair Lapid attending a conference in Herzliya, June 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90; Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

With the political temperature rising as police reportedly gear up to recommend indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leaders on Thursday took the premier to task for lashing out at Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich in a late-night Facebook post.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said that Netanyahu was “acting like a criminal with his unprecedented attack on the commissioner and the police” after Alsheich gave an interview critical of the prime minister.

“Netanyahu is humiliating us, the citizens of Israel,” Gabbay said in a statement. “Instead of requesting that they wrap up the investigation as soon as possible, Netanyahu has chosen to attack the police commissioner, and by doing so, he is trying to dismantle peoples’ trust in the legal system.”

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said Netanyahu’s attack on Alsheich was “a desperate attempt of a suspect to use his elevated status to threaten the rule of law and to vilify the police who protect all of us.”

Police are reportedly set to recommend pressing bribery charges against Netanyahu next week in at least one of the two corruption cases that they have been investigating for over a year.

In a rare interview on the cases on Wednesday for Hadashot news’s investigative program “Uvda,” Alsheich rebuffed as “untrue” Netanyahu’s earlier claim that most police recommendations are eventually trashed.

Alsheich further claimed that “powerful figures” had hired private investigators to collect information about the police investigators in the Netanyahu cases, apparently to personally discredit them once the recommendations emerged.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich’s honor, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In response, Netanyahu on Wednesday night said it was “shocking” that Alsheich would double down on the “false and outrageous suggestion that the prime minister has sent private investigators against the police officers who are investigating him.”

Alsheich’s insinuation is “so grave” that it warrants its own “objective investigation” on the police’s handling of the cases against him, added Netanyahu, who said the comments “cast a shadow” over the investigations.

In so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Hours before Alsheich’s interview was broadcast, Netanyahu hit back at media reports that said police believe there is sufficient evidence to charge him with  taking bribes, fraud, and breach of trust, saying the legal authorities will ultimately conclude that “there is nothing.”

Responding on Thursday to Alsheich’s interview, coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud) came to Netanyahu’s defense, echoing the prime minister’s attack on Alsheich and seemingly suggesting the police chief shared some responsibility for recent terror attacks due to his “obsession” with the prime minister.

“I have no idea why the police chief is involved in the investigations. You have to prioritize in life,” Amsalem told Army Radio. “There are people being murdered in the streets and it’s more important to him that the prime minister received cigars? He is taking the entire public attention away from the important issue and turning it to the least important.”

Likud MK David Amsalem, chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee leads the Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Zionist Union chair Gabbay has previously said that Netanyahu need not resign over police recommendations for indictment, in his statement Thursday he said that the government could no longer be trusted to make principled decisions uninfluenced by the investigations.

“Unfortunately, we no longer have any expectations from the coalition’s members. By sitting in Netanyahu’s government, they give a stamp of approval to these attacks on the rule of law,” he said. “I call on coalition members to stop the proposal to annex the West Bank that will be voted on next week in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the same week in which police recommendations will be published. It is an offer of lands for corruption, a political bribe for coalition members.”

MK Tamar Zandberg, who is running for the leadership of her dovish Meretz party, echoed Gabbay’s statement, saying that the public “cannot rely on a prime minister to manage state affairs for the national good while he is neck-deep in investigations and desperate attempts to get out of them.

“We must not get to a situation where embroilment in the investigations is met with embroilment in a war,” she said, suggesting that Netanyahu could initiate a military conflict in order to draw attention away from his legal troubles.

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