Netanyahu sowing seeds of delegitimization against police
Op-ed: The prime minister’s attacks on the police chief are part of a planned move. The timing is planned too: A moment before witnesses start marching back into the fraud investigation unit’s offices and before investigators return to the PM’s residence, it’s time to convince the public that not only are the investigators suspected of leaks, but that the investigation itself is illegitimate.
It’s hard to know what went through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mind when he published a Facebook post against Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh last Saturday evening. It’s possible he didn’t give it enough thought.
Netanyahu accused Alsheikh of hiring a political advisor “at a cost of millions without a bid” and of a “tsunami of illegal leaks.” The two accusations were completely false, fake news. Lior Horev’s consulting firm cost the taxpayer NIS 325,000 (roughly $93,000) in 2016 and NIS 238,000 ($68,100) in the first nine months of 2017. The company is tasked with specific missions. Horev has no classification that allows him to know what’s going on in the prime minister’s investigations.
Most importantly, there are no leaks from the police. The commissioner’s heroic battle on this issue has borne fruit. The first victims of this battle have been the journalists reporting on police affairs, who are now forced to receive stories from the interrogation rooms from other sources, mainly from the interrogees’ lawyers. Interrogees have interests; so do their lawyers. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the leaks are also coming from sources close to Netanyahu.
In general, the prime minister’s investigations are being conducted under a media blackout. Such a blackout did not exist in investigations of previous prime ministers, neither in Ariel Sharon’s case nor in Ehud Olmert’s case. What troubles Netanyahu is the investigations, not the leaks.
Netanyahu's campaign against the police isn’t spontaneous—it’s a planned move. The timing is planned too: A moment before witnesses start marching back into the offices of the Lahav 443 fraud investigation unit, a moment before police investigators return to the prime minister’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street for another visit.
The move makes sense: This is the time to sow the seeds of delegitimization among the public. Not only are the investigators suspected of leaks, the actual investigation is illegitimate. And so, Knesset Member David Amsalem was sent to propose a law that would grant a sitting prime minister immunity from investigations. The bill won’t pass, because the heads of the coalition parties—Naftali Bennett, Moshe Kahlon and Avigdor Lieberman—won’t take part in a law that will crown Netanyahu as their eternal ruler, but the media is reporting about it and social media is responding and the seeds are being sown.
Netanyahu knows, of course, that the decisions in his case won’t be made in the market square, neither in the protests at Petah Tikva’s Goren Square nor in his supporters’ rallies at the Tel Aviv Convention Center. He also knows, however, that decisions in investigations of this kind are not mathematical. The public atmosphere has an impact. The investigations against Ehud Olmert were conducted after the Second Lebanon War, when the feeling among the public was that he had lost his legitimacy to serve as prime minister (Netanyahu made sure to organize and fund the campaign that fostered this feeling, and he knew why he was doing it).
Netanyahu has a wide support base today. It’s his arsenal as the investigations enter the final straight. It’s his asset.
But he made a mistake with the police commissioner, and perhaps with the attorney general as well. When he appointed Alsheikh and Avichai Mandelblit, he assumed what everyone assumes at such moments—that they would be grateful for the appointment, that when their loyalty for the organization’s values clashes with their affiliation with a political bloc, that when their loyalty to their subordinates clashes with their loyalty to the person who appointed them, they would favor him. They may not do anything illegal for him, but they would know how to play for time, delay testimonies, make excuses, cut resources. Such things have happened in the past.
But Alsheikh is a different type. Netanyahu's Facebook post sent him through the roof.
First of all, Netanyahu vilified the jewel in the police chief’s crown—his campaign to eliminate the leaks. Alsheikh’s work in this field is really unusual. The measures for locating and deterring leakers—primarily the lie detector—were not only introduced and improved, they were also enforced by law. MK Amsalem tried to intervene, as if to promote the law but actually to sabotage it. The police chief turned the attorney general against him, and the hurdle was removed.
Second, Netanyahu's expectations are absurd. The way Alsheikh sees it, the conspiracy theories around the prime minister’s investigations are like the conspiracy theories accusing the Shin Bet of murdering former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They’re a joke. Many people are involved in the investigations. The police commissioner can appoint officers, but he can’t tell them to bury the investigation. It’s not the police chief’s job to keep the right-wing bloc in power. He can’t do it.
And he doesn’t want to do it. These aren’t the values he was raised on in the Shin Bet. It’s possible, of course, that there’s an investigator or an attorney who may be intimidated by the campaign. This possibility is the reason the police chief chose to openly confront the prime minister’s comments. It’s his way of maintaining his investigators’ integrity, and maybe even deterring the prime minister’s side from pursuing the campaign.
Does Netanyahu regret appointing Alsheikh? That question remains open. One thing’s for sure: If Netanyahu thought he was selecting a loyalist as the police commissioner, he was wrong.