Coalition chairman David Bitan forced fellow Likud MK Bennie Begin out of the Knesset Interior Committee Wednesday, because he would not support legislation that is seen as a way to influence the outcome of investigations of alleged corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bitan will replace Begin on the committee.
The bill in question, proposed by Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem, also of Likud, would prohibit the police from summarizing and making recommendations in high-profile investigations which are accompanied by a state attorney, and would also increase penalties for leaking the contents of police investigations.
The initiative’s opponents say that it is meant to prevent the police from recommending that Netanyahu be indicted, while Amsalem argued that it will protect the reputation of people who are the subjects of investigations that end without an indictment.
In a committee meeting, Begin voiced objections to the bill, saying it should not apply to cases that are already open – such as those involving Netanyahu.
Begin pointed out that the bill had changed from what Amsalem originally presented: “The original intention was disrupted – to prevent thousands of people from being under suspicion. This was disrupted because of good intentions, to prevent ‘legal torture’ of those who the police recommend not to indict, but we are now left only with the cases [which have] an accompanying state attorney – 200 cases a year. This means that compared to the intention of the original bill, it now does not respond to 99.9%.”
The Likud MK was not the only member of the coalition to come out against the bill, with Kulanu faction chairman Roi Folkmann saying “we can’t change the rule for investigators in the middle of an investigation, because it will hurt their professional work.
“We said the whole time that we will not allow personal legislation, and as long as it isn’t personal, there is no logic in applying it to existing investigations,” Folkmann added. “We propose that the law only apply to investigations that begin after it goes into effect, as MK Begin proposed. We are also willing to accept a proposal to postpone the bill’s implementation for a reasonable amount of time,” he said.
The committee was expected to vote on the bill Wednesday morning, but the vote was postponed due to the objections. Another meeting on the bill was set for Thursday.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the Attorney-General’s Office continued to express its opposition to the bill.
“There is no dispute that publicizing recommendations is wrong,” the office’s representative Amit Merari said. “The dispute is about the definition of a recommendation. To not present the totality of the evidence in the case hurts the investigation, the work of the prosecution, and the citizens. It is best for the citizens that even cases with an accompanying attorney be investigated [fully]… The attorney does not sit in the interrogation room.”
As for the second part of the bill, Amsalem lamented that law enforcement does not respond to leaks of investigation materials: “If you would have investigated leaks, we wouldn’t need this law, but you totally ignore the law… If it’s forbidden to steal, do you not investigate theft? Just what you feel like [investigating]?”
Yaniv Va’aki of the State Attorney’s Office responded that “everyone agrees leaks have to be taken care of – the question is how. Is criminal law the way to go? Should we instruct to leave all the crimes [alone] and just focus on leaks?”
During the meeting, Amsalem also instructed the Interior Committee’s legal adviser to make sure the Shin Bet security agency is left out of the bill, after a representative said the Shin Bet’s dialogue with the State Attorney’s Office is critical for fighting terrorism and espionage.
Earlier this week, a clause in the bill jailing those who publish leaked investigation materials sparked outrage, because it was seen as targeting journalists.
Amsalem, however, denied to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that this was his intention. He told the committee that the wording of the legislation will be changed to leave journalists out.