Who polices the police’s police: What the press is saying on September 8
Israel media review

Who polices the police’s police: What the press is saying on September 8

Channel 12’s ‘atom bomb’ of an evening news scoop alleging misconduct on the part of Netanyahu’s investigators is explosive enough to lead both major dailies this morning

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. Visible behind him are two of the three judges in the case, Rivka Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham (Screen capture/Government Press office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. Visible behind him are two of the three judges in the case, Rivka Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham (Screen capture/Government Press office)

1. “Investigate the investigators” — That is what Yair Netanyahu has been chanting on his Twitter feed since the publication of a report from Channel 12’s Amit Segal which suggests gross misconduct on the part of several senior law enforcement officials probing corruption allegations into the prime minister that ultimately led to his indictment.

  • The report reveals that senior law enforcement officials have filed a complaint with the state comptroller in recent days alleging that senior police officers and the state prosecutor engaged in a widespread cover-up of a serious conflict of interest by one of the investigators into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in order not to derail the corruption investigations into the premier.
  • The officials allege that Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, the chief investigator into allegations against Sara Netanyahu, did not disclose to his superiors that he was having an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes, a major Netanyahu critic and the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes who has since been charged, together with the prime minister, in the so-called Case 2000.
  • In a further example of the police’s questionable handling of the fallout surrounding its probes into the premier, Channel 12 also reveals that the state prosecutor prevented an investigation into police chief Roni Alsheich, fearing that this too could undermine the Netanyahu investigations. According to the report, Alsheich reportedly leaked to several news outlets false information claiming that the PIID was hiding evidence proving that the an unarmed Bedouin man shot dead by police in 2017 had ties to terror groups.
  • The story is big enough to make it on the front page of both major dailies — Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom. The former gives about half the space allotted for the entire article to allow those tarred in it to give their sides of the story. This includes a nine-paragraph response from the State Prosecutor’s Office that appears to have been printed in full and includes the assertion that Rotenberg hadn’t at all been involved in Case 2000 and had left the force six months before the investigation began.
  • Yedioth allows everyone and their mother respond to the report, including Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, who had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Ironically missing from the laundry list of reactions is that of Netanyahu who himself, who had no shortage of what to say.
  • “Shocking! [Channel 12 reporter] Amit Segal has dropped an atomic bomb that proves with correspondence between the police and the prosecutors: this is how they framed Prime Minister Netanyahu, with criminal actions and by subverting the investigations,” Netanyahu writes in a social media post sharing the Channel 12 story. “Share the truth.”

2. Investigate everyone: Not to be outdone, Israel Hayom similarly gives ample opportunity for right-wing lawmakers to express their outrage and call for investigations on investigations in its round-up of the Channel 12 story, headlining it with Netanyahu’s “atom bomb” response to ensure that its given its proper weight.

  • The paper’s columnist Haim Shine says Segal’s story has “opened a Pandora’s box unparalleled since the establishment of the state… It offers a significant reinforcement to the feeling held by many, that in the law enforcement system, decay has spread so widely that it endangers Israeli democracy and causes a loss of trust in the police, the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office,” he writes.
  • The left-leaning Haaretz gives the story front page coverage as well, but it’s lower down and easier to miss. However, the daily does some original follow-up reporting, reaching out to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana who calls for the re-examining of the police’s conclusion that Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an had been carrying out a terror attack before he was shot and left to bleed to death.
  • According to the Channel 12 report, the head of the PIID at the time, Uri Carmel, sent a letter to Shai Nitzan expressing outrage over Alsheich’s leaking of false information. Then-state prosecutor Nitzan responded in an email leaked to the network, saying that while he too was disturbed by the “scandalous” actions of the police chief, “there are national interests that also must be taken into consideration,” he said, referencing the ongoing attacks against the law enforcement system led by Netanyahu and his supporters, to which he did not want to provide more ammunition.
  • “Ohana’s response to the report is the first time a government official has called for a re-examination of the police determination made hours after the incident in Umm al-Hiran that it had been a terror attack. So far, the police have never backed down from defining Abu Al-Qia’an as a terrorist and received backing from Ohana’s predecessor, Gilad Erdan,” despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.”
  • An outraged Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh tells Israel Hayom that he plans on submitting a request for a special investigative committee to be formed in the Knesset to look into the police’s handling of the Abu Al-Qia’an killing, but adds that the “blame game is not a zero sum game” and that just because Alsheich and Nitzan acted inappropriately, it “does not exonerate Netanyahu.”

3. Curfew kerfuffle: After delaying the implementation of nightly curfews and school closures in dozens of virus hotspots from Monday to Tuesday evening, the final list of cities and towns subject to the new rules emerges on Tuesday morning.

  • The curfews will be in effect every day between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. through September 15. During the curfew, residents must keep within 500 meters of their homes and non-essential businesses will be closed. Schools will be closed at all times, except for special needs programs.You can see the full roster here.
  • Not everyone, however, is convinced it will even be effective. “Closing Modiin Illit or Bnei Brak is ineffective. They’ll get infected inside. It won’t help at all,” says Kan’s Guy Zohar in a video clip. Those aren’t his words, he notes, showing a clip of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu saying much the same in a television interview several weeks ago, before proposing such a move.
  • In a column for Haaretz, Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer at Israel’s Clalit Health Services and chairman of the National COVID-19 Expert Panel, writes: “So far a combined system of ‘traffic lights,’ command centers and increased enforcement of restrictions has not been implemented. We can’t know whether the restrictions inherent in such a system are sufficient to create a declining trend, but the risk is that we won’t know very soon: The plan was approved late, is being implemented only now, and its results will be felt only in two weeks. Absent a dramatic change in people’s behavior, the system might/will not bring about the desired decline. But there is a narrow window of hope.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster quotes an unnamed government official as saying the so-called traffic light plan, which applies restrictions based on local infection rates, will not drive down virus rates.

4. School’s out for the holidays? On Thursday, eight days before Rosh Hashanah, the coronavirus cabinet will gather to discuss restrictions over the High Holidays.

  • Yedioth, in a front page report, says Thursday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting will focus on a proposal to shutter all schools around the country over the High Holidays, from September 18 until October 10.
  • The reopening of schools in May, after two months of lockdown, were blamed for the mass outbreak that followed. After breaking for the summer, schools resumed on September 1.
  • Gamzu tells Yedioth that he’s undeterred by the government’s last-minute decision to scrap his planned lockdowns in areas of high infection and replace it with nightly curfews, amid pressure from ultra-Orthodox  politicians. “I understood that I need to rethink my direction regarding restrictions on red cities, but without losing resolve. It’s not always nice when they don’t accept your recommendation, but you need to be an adult, look at the bigger picture and do the best you can in a given situation, to help the red cities lower morbidity rates.”
  • In another interview with Israel Hayom, Gamzu refrains from commenting on whether Israelis can expect a nationwide lockdown over the holidays.
  • “The holidays in Israel won’t be ordinary holidays. We do want to reduce gatherings and family meals and crowding,” he says, noting that mass holiday gatherings are a “classic” way to spread the virus en masse. “There will be a recommendation to keep it smaller. How we’ll recommend it and what — these are discussions that are currently going on.”

5. Who will lead? Though talk of another election is mostly off the table until late December, opposition politicking is alive and well.

  • According to a Channel 13 survey on Monday night, Naftali Bennett’s right-wing opposition Yamina party is enjoying an ongoing surge in support. If elections were held today, Channel 13’s poll found, Yamina would be the second-largest party with 21 seats — catapulting up from the six seats it won in last September’s race.
  • Yesh Atid, meanwhile, is experiencing the first challenge to Yair Lapid’s leadership since the party was founded eight years ago.  Lapid announced Monday that he will not allow the party to hold open primaries to choose its chairman and, deflecting a challenge to his own leadership, said a decision on how to elect a party head will be made only next year.
  • “Nobody is going to give me an ultimatum,” he says, following fellow party member Ofer Shelah’s call for a leadership primary and announcement that he would run against Lapid in such a race.
  • “Strong people aren’t afraid,” retorts Shelah on Twitter.
  • The opposition’s Avigdor Liberman manages to anger much of the Israeli political leadership with a call to Israelis to disregard the government’s virus rules. “The rules are illegal, don’t follow them, but rather use common sense,” Liberman said at the opening of his party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.
  • In a followup interview with Channel 12, he likens his call to Ariel Sharon’s decision to ignore orders from above in the advent of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, scoring a military victory. He dodges questions on how abandoning health regulations would help defeat the pandemic.
  • President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and numerous others condemn him for encouraging noncompliance.
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