Reviving judicial overhaul fears, bill would hand minister control of cop-probing unit

Likud MK Dan Illouz claims his legislation is intended to strengthen independence of Police Internal Investigations Department

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

The Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem, phhotographed on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem, phhotographed on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A freshman coalition lawmaker is working to advance legislation to bring a unit that probes alleged police wrongdoing under the full, direct control of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, raising concerns that the government may attempt to revive its controversial judicial overhaul in the middle of a war.

According to the Israel Hayom daily,  the bill, which was submitted by Likud MK Dan Illouz, is set to go to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday. Approval by the committee would mean that the government stands behind the legislation.

As a member of the coalition, Illouz cannot submit legislation to the committee without the permission of Levin. Asked if Levin had given such permission, a spokesman for the minister told The Times of Israel that “the agenda has not yet been confirmed so I don’t know yet.”

The bill to subordinate the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) — which was initially proposed last year by Likud MK and former deputy head of the PIID Moshe Saada and approved in a preliminary reading — had widely been seen as part of a government project aimed at handing politicians the reins over key law enforcement bodies.

Currently, the PIID operates under the purview of the State Attorney’s Office, a separate organizational unit within the Justice Ministry. The bill would see the department instead report directly to a cabinet minister and come under the supervision of the Justice Ministry’s director-general.

The department is currently tasked with investigating suspected crimes committed by police officers and employees of the Shin Bet security agency, and can in certain cases conduct criminal and disciplinary investigations into wrongdoing by civil service employees. Under the new law, the PIID’s powers would be expanded to allow probes into state prosecutors.

And while the text of the bill states that “the department will be independent and will operate with full freedom of action in the exercise of its professional powers,” critics have argued that the move will neuter the PIID by subjecting it to political influence.

Likud MK Dan Illouz attends a meeting of the Jerusalem lobby at the Knesset, May 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Even during wartime, “this dangerous coalition is not giving up on its coup d’état,” tweeted Labor MK Naama Lazimi in response. “They even want to subordinate the independent body that is supposed to investigate police offenses to the minister and make it political.”

“The bill will complete the Netanyahu-Ben Gvir government’s move to completely politicize the police,” fellow Labor MK Gilad Kariv posted on X.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has previously lashed out against the PIID over investigations into allegations of violence lodged by protesters.

Responding to his critics, Illouz retorted that the purpose of the law was to strengthen the department’s independence, calling its subordination to the minister “purely administrative.”

“The law actually emphasizes the professional independence of the Defense Ministry even vis-a-vis the prosecutor’s office, speaks explicitly about professional independence, and strengthens the PIID,” he tweeted.

“My goal is to make the PIID more independent and stronger. I expect the opposition to support this goal, and if there are changes that need to be included in the wording, we are of course open to a substantive discussion in the committee,” he added in a separate tweet.

File- State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In May 2023, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman called on the country’s leadership to consider removing the PIID from the aegis of the State Attorney’s Office, warning of potential conflicts of interest that hamper its independence.

The recommendation was included in a section of his annual report looking into the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) and Israel Police’s handling of complaints against officers, most of which Englman said “are not examined at the relevant levels.”

According to the ombudsman, the PIID had closed 55% of the 5,356 cases, on which it made a final decision in 2021, without contacting police officials to ask whether a specific case could have been dealt without law enforcement involvement.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai (4th from right), and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (3rd from right) at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Englman’s report raised issues with the organizational structures of the bodies that deal with complaints, saying “the institutional association” of the PIID with the State Attorney’s Office and of the police’s disciplinary department with the manpower directorate “influence their ability to ensure full functional independence.”

This argument was echoed in the explanatory notes to Illouz’s bill, which stated that “the close and joint work of the police and the prosecutor’s office creates a sharp conflict of interest.”

As part of a deal bringing in the National Unity party into the government following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, the Likud party agreed that no legislation in the Knesset or government resolutions unrelated to the war would be advanced during the course of the conflict unless advanced by mutual agreement.

However, in a televised statement on Saturday, National Unity leader Benny Gantz issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu, threatening to withdraw from the coalition unless the premier commits to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict by June 8 — potentially opening the way to the coalition advancing non-war related legislation. Netanyahu quickly indicated he had no intention of adhering to Gantz’s demands.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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