Police minister uneasy with Netanyahu speech knocking law enforcement

Other ministers back PM’s fiery address dismissing likely recommendation from cops that he be indicted

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Police Chief Roni Alsheich (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Police Chief Roni Alsheich (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) on Wednesday expressed his disapproval of a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day earlier that roundly dismissed a likely police recommendation to the attorney general that charges be pressed against him.

Meanwhile, other ministers from the Likud and Jewish Home coalition parties lined up in support of the prime minister in a series of morning radio interviews.

“I am not satisfied with all of his statements, and I am not satisfied with the style or the interpretation that can emerge from these statements,” said Erdan, whose office oversees the Israel Police, in the Knesset plenum.

“I say from this podium that I think police are doing their job and I do not question their role,” he said, adding that Netanyahu’s remarks demand a more “in-depth explanation.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the coalition Jewish Home party, dismissed criticism that the style of the prime minister’s address — which also saw Netanyahu slam the media and claim Tel Aviv anti-corruption protests were funded by the New Israel Fund — was unbefitting and brash.

“Never mind the style [of his speech] — I’m not Hannah Bavli,” Bennett told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, referring to the late Israeli advice columnist and decorum expert. “The prime minister is correct in his statement — 80 percent of the cases that are handed over from police to prosecutors are ultimately closed.”

In his address, Netanyahu had said some 60% of those cases do not result in an indictment. The author of the so-called police recommendations bill — which would prevent investigators from opining on the evidential strength of cases against public officials — Likud MK David Amsalem, has placed the number of cases thrown out by prosecutors despite police recommendations for indictment at 80%.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud rally marking the Hanukkah holiday in Tel Aviv on December 19, 2017. (Flash90)

“If there will be recommendations [to indict] — so what?” Netanyahu told a rally of Likud members on Tuesday. “Here’s a fact I doubt the public knows: The vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing. More than 60% of police recommendations are thrown out.”

The prime minister’s speech drew accusations from the opposition that the prime minister was aiming to discredit Israel’s law enforcement authorities.

“Instead of telling the public ‘I made a mistake,’ or I ‘acted incorrectly,’ the prime minister again prefers to attack the police,” said Labor party leader Avi Gabbay on Tuesday night. “It wasn’t the police that accepted $200,000 worth of gifts, it was you [Netanyahu].”

Netanyahu is a suspect in two corruption investigations, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

In the first, 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.

The prime minister has been questioned seven times by police, most recently on Friday. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

On Tuesday, Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin denied the prime minister’s address was designed to undercut police.

“There was no attack on the legal authorities in the prime minister’s speech,” Elkin told Army Radio. “Just like the police may say what they think, Netanyahu is allowed to answer.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev, also of the Likud party, told Army Radio the prime minister was unperturbed by the looming police recommendation on his alleged guilt.

Israelis take part in a demonstration under the name “March of Shame” to protest against government corruption and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 9, 2017 in Tel Aviv. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“The prime minister is not pressured, he seems very calm and is functioning excellently,” she said.

The Tuesday speech also saw Netanyahu liken himself to President Reuven Rivlin, who was investigated in seven cases but never faced charges. The comparison was swiftly rejected by sources in the President’s Office, who stressed the police never recommended the then-Likud MK face charges, contrary to Netanyahu’s suggestion.

“These recommendations will be thrown aside and will end with nothing. And I say this for a simple reason: There will be nothing because there was nothing,” Netanyahu said, employing an oft-repeated mantra.

Shortly after the speech, senior police officials told the Ynet news site that the prime minister’s speech was “very strange.”

“Apparently Netanyahu was directing his remarks to the attorney general because he knows what it is in the file,” the sources, who were not named, were quoted as saying.

The police officials said the investigation into the prime minister’s gift-taking was about to turn into an investigation into bribery, which is why it was taking time.

The speech came days before the Knesset was set to pass the so-called police recommendations bill into law. The proposal has been revised to exclude Netanyahu’s cases, amid an uproar.

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