Under fire for alleged cover-up, former prosecutor says Netanyahu ‘full of lies’

Shai Nitzan dismisses as ‘absurd’ prime minister’s claim that, along with law enforcers, he conspired to paint slain Bedouin teacher as terrorist just to harm the PM

State Attorney Shai Nitzan speaks at the Makor Rishon Conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
State Attorney Shai Nitzan speaks at the Makor Rishon Conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel’s former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan on Thursday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of lying to the public, while defending his own decisions which have come under increased scrutiny in recent days.

Netanyahu has redoubled attacks against Nitzan and other law enforcement figures following a report this week that claimed the former prosecutor covered up possible police misconduct to avoid giving ammunition to allies of the premier, who have sought to portray the criminal cases against him as a “witch hunt.”

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 intimated that the police had tried to cover up their mistake in order to harm him.

“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,” Nitzan said, in a series of media appearances.

“How many lies can you put in one sentence, how much cynicism. To stand before the public and say a sentence like that full of lies… is unthinkable,” Nitzan said. “Is it conceivable that we would make an innocent citizen into a terrorist in order to harm the prime minister?”

The suggestion was “absurd,” said Nitzan, who also pointed out, in an interview on Channel 12 news, that he was appointed to his post by Netanyahu, as was former chief of police Roni Alsheich and still-serving Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who respectively led the graft investigations and filed corruption indictments against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has accused all three men 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.

Nitzan said he felt compelled to speak up after listening to Netanyahu’s remarks earlier this week regarding the death of Abu Al-Qia’an, who 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 was razing to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

Though police have always insisted that Abu Al-Qia’an was carrying out a car-ramming, the Shin Bet security service and the Police Internal Investigations Department have both reportedly concluded that the father of 12 was shot in error and lost control of his vehicle which then hit a group of officers, killing one of them.

“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 said Tuesday.

A Channel 12 report Monday night said Nitzan had closed a probe into the then-chief of police Alsheich over his leaks to the press of the existence of a Shin Bet report Alsheich apparently mistakenly believed backed up the police version, but that he claimed was being suppressed by the Police Internal Investigations Division, or PIID, a Justice Ministry unit.

The station reported an email from 2018 sent by Nitzan to the head of PIID which said that highlighting differences between the State Attorney’s Office and the police “will only do good for those who want to do evil to the law enforcement system,” a seeming reference to attacks by the prime minister and his supporters on the criminal justice system amid the investigations against him.

Nitzan, in his various media appearances Thursday denied the e-mail was referring to the prime minister and pointed out that he had never said that Al-Qia’an was a terrorist and had certainly not backed up the police conclusion.

“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.

Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks during a Channel 12 TV conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)

Channel 12 also reported Monday that law enforcement officials recently filed a complaint with the state comptroller, alleging that senior police officers and Nitzan engaged in a widespread cover-up of a conflict of interest by one of the investigators into Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Nitzan told Channel 13 news he had looked into the matter and concluded the investigator in question did not have access to any material that compromised the Netanyahu corruption case.

When asked by Channel 13 if he was calling the prime minister a liar, Nitzan responded: “You said that.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Beit Shemesh on September 8, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to Nitzan’s interviews in a statement reported by Channel 12, saying, “Shai Nitzan corrupted the law enforcement system and turned into a law circumventing system.”

Nitzan, the statement said, “is in a panic because he knows that an independent investigation will reveal the truth of trumped up cases against the prime minister on which he is the first who needs to be brought to justice.”

Netanyahu has used the Channel 12 revelations to criticize the legal proceedings against him.

“Is it possible that the attorney general didn’t know about all this behavior? Is it possible he didn’t approve this? I estimate with caution that the attorney general will not check into this. There’s no alternative but an independent inquiry,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “Obviously there are political decisions being made here by senior law enforcement officials who are distorting justice and the law in order to overthrow a right-wing prime minister, in order to overthrow us,” the premier raged.

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