Israel’s parliament passes law restricting police disclosures

Knesset’s move seen as effort to protect prime minister Netanyahu in corruption cases

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu:  police are expected to wrap up two separate graft investigations into Mr Netanyahu in the coming weeks. Photograph:  Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: police are expected to wrap up two separate graft investigations into Mr Netanyahu in the coming weeks. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

 

Israel’s Knesset parliament has passed a controversial “police recommendations Bill” which bars the police from publicising recommendations from their investigations into public officials, in a move the opposition claims is an effort to protect the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is under investigation in two separate corruption cases.

The law passed by 59 to 54 votes after an almost two-day filibuster extending into the early hours of Thursday.

Just hours after the vote, the opposition Yesh Atid party filed a petition with the high court of justice, asking for the measure to be struck down.

“We cannot allow Israeli democracy to corrupt itself with a law that violates the principle of equality; a law whose only purpose is to intimidate the police and law enforcement agencies,” Yesh Atid Knesset member Karine Elharrar said, speaking outside the court.

Justice minister Ayelet Shaked accused Yesh Atid of “humiliating” the Knesset.

“You are trampling on the Knesset, and embarrassing everyone who is in here,” she said. “I am embarrassed that after three days of discussion and endless discussions in committee, you’re running to the court.”

Government officials stressed that the provisions of the new law do not apply to ongoing investigations against Mr Netanyahu, but the opposition said it was specifically tailored to protect officials from prosecution and may shield them if they are named suspects in other cases.

Graft investigations

The police are expected to wrap up two separate graft investigations into Mr Netanyahu in the coming weeks and Israel’s four-term prime minister may be forced to step down if the state attorney decides there are sufficient grounds to prosecute.

The first case involves suspicions that Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received champagne, cigars and jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of euro from wealthy businessmen. The second case involves secret talks with the publisher of a major Israeli newspaper in which Mr Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for reducing circulation of a free pro-Netanyahu daily paper, funded by his close friend, American Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Angered by the opposition appeal to the high court, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein warned that he would prevent the opposition from holding future filibusters. In response, the opposition broke off all contacts with the coalition.

Supporters of the Bill say it’s needed to protect citizens who are investigated but never charged, which happens in most cases. They claim that many public figures have had their reputations tarnished after police recommendations were made public.

The opposition insist the measure was pushed through to protect Mr Netanyahu, ahead of the police wrapping up their investigations.