Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Police on Sunday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of undermining the rule of law for “baselessly” alleging it was responsible for what Netanyahu deemed “a tsunami” of leaks to the press about the ongoing investigations against him.
The police issued a statement denying all allegations of interference.
“The Israel Police is doing its work in accordance with the law and the state, and we will not be dragged into baseless attacks designed to disrupt the work of the police and undermine the legitimacy of the rule of law,” the statement said.
Channel 2 quoted Police Inspector-General Roni Alsheich as saying he was “ready to accept criticism” in order for it to be directed at him and not the police who are probing the prime minister.
On Saturday, Netanyahu accused Alsheich of failing to follow through on his pledge to prevent leaks stemming from the internal probes. The prime minister blamed strategist Lior Chorev – who he said was unfairly appointed as an external adviser for the police – for the alleged leaks.
Likud sources said they saw Netanyahu’s attack on the police as a “preemptive strike” intended for future leaks from the police questioning of state’s witness Ari Harow and others.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he spoke to Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit and asked him to consider a wide probe of police leaks. But he also lent support to Alsheich, saying that he did not doubt his integrity or professionalism.
But Erdan said Alsheich’s decision to hire political strategist Chorev as a media adviser for the police harmed the public’s trust in the institution. He noted that Chorev regularly criticizes Netanyahu and other Likud figures on social media.
Chorev has worked for rival political parties Kadima and Kulanu in past elections.
Chorev responded to Netanyahu’s attack on him and Alsheich by calling them “delusional claims” and saying it was wrong to try to turn a professional investigation into something personal.
Sources close to Netanyahu were quoted last week accusing Alsheich of aiming for a political career after he completes his term as head of the police.
They hinted that the religious, Zionist Alsheich was headed for Bayit Yehudi. However, Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett told Israel Radio on Sunday morning that he rejected any attempt to ascribe political aspirations to Alsheich.
The law in Israel requires a three-year cooling-off period for an IDF general or police inspector- general before entering politics.
The high-profile exchange between the prime minister and police sparked a slew of reactions by politicians, including from three MKs in the coalition: Kulanu’s Merav Ben- Ari, Roy Folkman and Roy Azaria. Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon later told Netanyahu he did not ask the MKs to attack him.
Ben-Ari said in a statement directed at Netanyahu: “The problem is not with the inspector-general and leaks.The problem is with you.”
Deputy Knesset Speaker Nava Boker (Likud) fired back immediately, calling the legislator a subversive and asking her to consider whether her natural inclinations should place her in the opposition.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog stated, “What started with attacks on artists, journalists and judges has now come to police. [The prime minister is] inciting and dividing for his own personal interest at the expense of the unity of the nation and harming the symbol of law and government.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter: “Netanyahu is panicking and attacking his investigators who are probing him with courage and integrity.” He called upon Mandelblit to defend police from the attack.
Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, a former Jerusalem police chief, called Netanyahu’s attack on the police a “cynical move taken in order to instill fear and deter law enforcement.” He added, “It is an embarrassment that the prime minister of Israel has reached such a point of recklessness and humiliating attacks on law-abiding people who are merely performing their duties.”
Coalition chairman David Bitan defended Netanyahu: “He has every right to defend himself from the police. The leaks have become a serious problem.”
According to media reports, the police are expected to question Netanyahu on the “Gifts Affair” and the “Israel Hayom Affair.”
In the former, known as Case 1,000, Netanyahu is alleged to have illegally received expensive gifts from a number of businessmen.
In the latter, known as Case 2,000, Netanyahu allegedly tried to sway the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot
to give him favorable coverage in exchange for his support for a bill that would weaken a rival paper, Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu has rejected all allegations against him.