PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, board a plane.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
It wasn’t their first rodeo, but the crime reporters in the police spokesman’s group were shocked nonetheless.
The press release sent out by the police on Sunday – more cryptic treasure map than transparent statement to the media – dealt with one of the most high-profile cases in years, and left the reporters confounded, ill-informed and furious.
The statement that police had finished their probe of the Prime Minister’s Residence case left out the very details that are included in every such statement – was there enough evidence found to recommend an indictment, and if so, against whom? Without naming names or giving up any information whatsoever about the findings of the investigation, the statement itself was all but worthless, a sports page without the scores.
Once the statement was released, the WhatsApp page lit up with texts by reporters including the following: “We don’t need your hints. Is there or isn’t there a recommendation?” “You’re trying to pull one over on us and this is causing damage to all citizens of Israel.” “This is an anti-democratic action!” From the outside, it may appear to be an internal dispute between the media and a police force reluctant to cooperate. But there’s something much more troubling at play.
Presumption of innocence is a principle of crucial importance, as is the privacy of suspects. This equation changes, however, when the suspect in question is a public figure, especially one who is married to the most powerful person in the country, and stands accused of misusing taxpayers’ money. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the police to provide information to the public they serve about allegations of illegal activity by their elected officials and members of their inner circle, no matter how it may affect the reputation or blood pressure of powerful people.
Other than in the case of Sara Netanyahu, police have maintained this policy as of late, in particular regarding the litany of corruption investigations against local authority heads in recent years. To make an even more glaring comparison, just last week they clarified that they found evidence against actor Moshe Ivgy, including many cases of sexual misconduct, and also gave their recommendation regarding a spreading case of fraud involving state funds.
On Monday morning, the police and the Attorney-General’s Office sniped at one another dodging blame for the vague wording of the message. The fact that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit was appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu after serving as his cabinet secretary (having replaced attorney-general and one-time Netanyahu attorney Yehuda Weinstein) and that the Public Security Ministry is run by Likud minister Gilad Erdan, will only fuel suspicions that the wording of the announcement was dictated from up high, with the express purpose of casting doubt on the allegations against Sara Netanyahu.
On Sunday, the prime minister made good use of the message, highlighting that it didn’t “include any recommendation to put Mrs. Netanyahu on trial.”
When it comes to the trust between the police and the public they are sworn to protect, double standards – perceived or otherwise – between their treatment of everyday citizens and those living in the Prime Minister’s Residence have the potential to send a powerful message to the public.
They also have the potential to cast doubt on the work of their own investigators, something that may bode well for a select few brought for questioning under caution, but should be cause for concern for the rest of us.