Leaks and investigations

Politically motivated leaks don't serve the public interest.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to an advisor at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 6, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to an advisor at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 6, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out Saturday night at the Israel Police, claiming that leaks on the investigations being conducted against him have “become a tsunami.”
Netanyahu’s critics claim his attack is designed to intimidate police investigators and proves that the prime minister is nervous about the ongoing investigations against him. Netanyahu’s offensive undermines the credibility of the police, which is already at a low point due to revelations of sexual harassment within its ranks, allegations of excessive force used by officers against citizens, and unlawful restrictions on the right to demonstrate. All this is potentially destabilizing for the rule of law and order.
In contrast, Netanyahu’s allies argue that information divulged in police interrogation rooms should remain classified. News media should not be privy to this information, particularly when it is filtered through sources that seem to have an interest in besmirching the prime minister and which are leaking details with this in mind.
There is some truth to both claims. The prime minister’s very public attack on the police seems motivated more by an attempt to improve approval ratings than by a genuine concern about leaks. Shifting attention away from police investigations into Netanyahu’s own purported wrongdoings – focusing instead on what Netanyahu claims is a partisan attempt within the Israel Police to hurt his leadership – is a good way to control news media coverage.
Here, the prime minister seems to be taking a cue from US President Donald Trump, who has regularly denounced what he has called illegal leaks in the ongoing investigation by the FBI into his presidential campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. US intelligence agencies have said Moscow meddled in the campaign, stealing thousands of emails and other documents from Democratic Party officials and releasing them publicly to embarrass Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and assist Trump.
Netanyahu’s attack on the police now is surprising, since the Channel 2 report that triggered the prime minister’s scathing Facebook posting was hardly controversial. It was common knowledge that after the holidays police would be renewing its investigation into Netanyahu, as Channel 2 reported. There was no need for a leak to report this.
Also, the police have an obligation to provide information to the public on the progress of the investigations against Netanyahu, though without divulging anything potentially incriminatory.
Judging from the weekly demonstrations near the house of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, many Israelis are under the impression there has been too much foot-dragging in the various corruption investigations.
At the same time, Netanyahu is right to call into question the involvement of the political adviser Lior Horev as an external consultant for the Israel Police, tasked with improving its tarnished image.
The circumstances of Horev’s appointment raise questions. Horev also headed the election campaign of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a political rival of Netanyahu.
We would like to believe that police investigations into allegations against Netanyahu are not politically motivated, but that aggressively investigating the prime minister is a sign of Israel’s democracy functioning properly. No one, not even the highest ranking politicians, are above the law. That was proven when former president Moshe Katzav and former prime minister Ehud Olmert were convicted and sent to jail. Thankfully, we do not live in a country where law enforcement authorities are intimidated by the political echelon.
But the police need to improve their public image.
While leaks are the lifeblood of journalism, and a vibrant news media helps preserve democracy, politically motivated leaks which tend to distort the truth do little to serve the public’s right to know.