The heightened tension in the North must not be allowed to serve as a smokescreen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hide behind as the police prepare to issue their recommendations as to whether he should be charged in cases 1000 and 2000 this week.
Having willfully rejected his own advice to then prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 to stand down because of police investigations – “This prime minister [Olmert] is sunk up to his neck in investigations and has no moral and public mandate to decide fateful issues for the State of Israel” – Netanyahu and his supporters cannot suddenly demand any postponement of the police findings or downplay the seriousness of the recommendations because of a sudden security escalation.
Incongruous as it might seem, the police have to continue to do their duty. If that involves recommending Netanyahu be indicted for corruption and breach of trust even at a time when the prime minister is hunkered down in the command center of the Defense Ministry, then so be it.
In statues outside court houses around the world, Lady Justice is often depicted wearing a blindfold to represent the ideal of impartiality, that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, or other status.
The same is true here in Israel; there should be no special privileges for a prime minister suspected of wrongdoing. The heavy duties of state do not outweigh an individual’s responsibility to act within the letter of the law and the wheels of justice must continue turning no matter the circumstances.
Unfortunately, Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich himself put a spoke in this wheel last week with his ill-considered interview on Ilana Dayan’s Uvda program.
The allegation by the country’s senior policeman that a “powerful figure” had hired “private investigators who had been collecting information against police officers involved in ongoing investigations into the prime minister” presented Netanyahu with the perfect opportunity to throw mud at the police and question the impartiality of the investigation against him. If Alsheich is unable to provide clear and compelling evidence to back up his very troubling claim, then he has no option but to resign.
The late prime minister Ariel Sharon once memorably said that no-one ever regrets an interview they never gave, and Alsheich’s bizarre television performance once more backed up Sharon’s reputation as one of the wise men of Israeli politics.
What on earth was Alsheich (or his advisers) thinking when they agreed to the interview? What possible benefit could the police hope to achieve by discussing the Netanyahu case before the release of their recommendations? As someone used to working in the shadows during his long Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) career, why did Alsheich suddenly feel the need to expose himself on prime-time television?
Such a miscalculation on the part of the police chief adds another dent to the not-so-immaculate image of the Israel Police, a body whose senior officers in recent years have gained more publicity for sexual misdemeanors than cracking down on serious crime. Alsheich’s parachuting into the top job from the outside was meant to signify a cleaning of the stables and the restoration of the police’s reputation as an organization fit for purpose. If that was the aim of Alsheich’s TV appearance, then it backfired spectacularly.
At the same time, such a mistake does not justify Netanyahu’s outlandish reaction to Alsheich’s interview. His Facebook post claiming “a big shadow has been cast over police inquiries and recommendations” and that the police investigations into him cannot be regarded as impartial or objective, marks a new low in Netanyahu’s regular attacks against the rule of law and the institutions that are meant to safeguard it.
But in one important respect the prime minister is right: there needs to be an immediate investigation into Alsheich’s allegations. If in Alsheich’s words a “powerful figure” – clearly referring to Netanyahu – did hire private investigators in an attempt to intimidate police investigators, then this is a crime far more serious than the ones the prime minister is currently accused of.
Accepting gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from a prominent businessman (Case 1000) and attempting to gain positive press coverage in return for reining in a rival newspaper (Case 2000) pale into insignificance against a Mafia-style plot, which is what Alsheich is alleging, against the police.
This is the real cloud hanging over the Netanyahu investigations, and needs to be lifted speedily, regardless of the police recommendations into cases 1000 and 2000.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.