Public Security Minister Amir Ohana blasted law enforcement authorities and the state prosecution on Saturday after allegations surfaced last week that a probe into the death of a Bedouin Israeli man in 2017 had been covered up over fears it could give ammunition to critics of the corruption probe into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu apologized to the family of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an for the government having portrayed him as a terrorist after he was shot to death by police in 2017. Netanyahu also said that police had tried to cover up their mistakes in Abu Al-Qia’an’s case in order to harm the premier.
On Thursday, former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan rejected the claim. He accused Netanyahu of lying to the public and defended his own decisions in the case.
But “Shai Nitzan hasn’t convinced me,” Ohana averred in a Saturday night interview with Channel 12. Nitzan, Ohana went on, “doesn’t tell the truth on many things.”
Asked if Netanyahu’s public war on the prosecution didn’t trouble him, Ohana said state legal bodies had become “corrupt.”
“Ever since Netanyahu’s first term [beginning in 1996], has there been one prime minister who wasn’t investigated?” Ohana asked rhetorically. “Netanyahu and after him [Ehud] Barak and after him [Ariel] Sharon and after him [Ehud] Olmert [all faced corruption investigations]. An indictment against an elected official, certainly a prime minister, is an attack on democracy, thwarting the voter’s choice.”
Shortly after Ohana’s interview, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White party accused Likud of “wild incitement” against the legal system.
“There’s this wild incitement against the courts, the attorney general, the prosecution, and now the justice minister,” he said. “This incitement begins from the prime minister on down. Our job is to make sure the courts and prosecution remain independent.”
Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police officers in January 2017 when they arrived to oversee the demolition of houses in his home village of Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Bedouin village that the state razed in order to pave the way for a new Jewish town.
Moments after Abu Al-Qia’an was apparently shot in error, his car lurched forward and killed a police officer, Erez Levi. The Shin Bet security service and the Police Internal Investigations Department have both reportedly concluded that Abu Al-Qia’an, a teacher and father of 12, had lost control of his vehicle due to the initial gunshot wound.
Senior Israeli officials at the time insisted Abu Al-Qia’an was a terrorist, with then-public security minister Gilad Erdan lambasting media outlets for questioning the claim.
On Monday, a Channel 12 report based on leaked Justice Ministry emails sparked an uproar when it claimed Nitzan had closed a probe into the then-chief of police Roni Alsheich for having allegedly leaked a Shin Bet report on the incident – which he mistakenly believed backed up the police claim of Abu Al-Qia’an’s terrorist sympathies – to the press.
In a 2018 email sent by Nitzan to the head of the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Division, the state attorney cautioned that publicly highlighting differences between his office and the police “will only benefit those who want to hurt the law enforcement system.” According to Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal, who reported on the emails, that was a reference to attacks by the prime minister and his supporters on the criminal justice system amid the investigations against him.
Nitzan’s statement “that this isn’t the time to investigate something that could hurt the law enforcement authorities because it would serve those who want to attack them — that’s exactly how this is connected to the Netanyahu cases,” Ohana charged on Saturday.
“These are corrupt systems, and corrupt people led them. I have come to expose and to fix,” he said. “The prosecution and the law enforcement authorities needed to be squeaky clean” before indicting a prime minister.
Nitzan has vehemently denied he had attempted to suppress information on the Abu Al-Qia’an case, saying on Thursday that the email was not referring to the Netanyahu cases, and pointed out that he had never claimed Abu Al-Qia’an was a terrorist and had never backed up the police allegations.
“I said that it can’t be determined if he is a terrorist, that there are indications both ways; I really didn’t back up the police chief in the matter,” said Nitzan, who closed an investigation into the shooting in 2018.
Nitzan was moved to speak out, he said on Thursday, after Netanyahu explicitly accused him of a cover-up the day after the Channel 12 report.
“Yesterday we learned that senior officials in the State Attorney’s Office and the police made Abu Al-Qia’an out to be a terrorist so that they could defend themselves and attack me,” Netanyahu accused.
Nitzan responded on Thursday: “As soon as I saw the prime minister of Israel stand in front of the entire country and say that ‘the state prosecutor and the chief of police made an innocent man into a terrorist in order to harm the prime minister,’ I said enough. How many lies can you put in one sentence? How much cynicism? To stand before the public and say a sentence so full of lies… is unthinkable. Is it conceivable that we would make an innocent citizen into a terrorist in order to harm the prime minister?”
Netanyahu has accused Nitzan, Alsheich and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of complicity in what he claims is an attempt to oust him by manufacturing false corruption charges against him.
The prime minister is on trial in three cases, charged with fraud and breach of trust in all three, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing.