“The police says that it doesn’t recommend but it writes that there is a body of evidence. From my point of view, that is one and the same thing,” said Amsalem, the main sponsor of the bill, in his opening remarks of the committee meeting over which he preisded.
Seeking to dispel any accusations that the bill was being spearheaded in an attempt to prevent an indictment being filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is at the center of a string of investigations, Amsalem insisted that the bill was not about probes, but about public security.
“We are here to protect the citizens of Israel. We are not talking about investigations. The investigations will continue as usual and the leaks will continue as usual,” Amsalem added, before addressing a particularly controversial clause in the bill that calls for a year’s prison term for anyone found leaking classified information.
According to critics, the clause is designed to plug leaks to the press. “The journalists can relax. There was a misunderstanding,” Amsalem tried to clarify in a bid to allay any fears.
“A journalist who receives information, as long as it doesn’t harm the state, can publish it. The sanction needs to be on the police and the State Attorney,” he added.
During the stormy debates that ensued, MKs Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) were removed from the meeting.
State Attorney Shay Nitzan however, raised a series of reservations about the proposed bill that would strip the police of its right to recommend an indictment.
“Obviously I have read the bill,” he said, before addressing Amsalem’s opening contention. “Are a recommendation and a conclusion the same thing? No. It should be said that there are a lot more cases that are passed on to police's prosecution.
“At the end of the investigation we check the case and decide its status—whether or not to file an indictment. Out of 30,000 cases that require a discussion, we file indictments in about 4,000 cases. All the rest are shelved or transferred to the police,” Nitzan said.
Nitzan argued that in cases where complex legal questions arise, the police does not always have to state its position.
“There are cases where it is clear to them there is not enough evidence, and there are those when it is clear there is,” Nitzan said.
Moreover, he rejected the notion that the State Attorney merely acts as a rubber stamp for the police, before listing the numerous problems he said stood out in the bill in its current draft.
“I think think that we use common sense well. There are serious problems in this bill proposal. On the one hand, there is the issue of public interest in cases the public will want to know about and what the position of the police is,” he said.
“On the other hand, there is a strong interest that the chairman of the committee spoke about, that the police recommendations do not mean obligations and absolutely are not always accepted,” he argued.
“In complex cases we sit with them (the police), speak to them, ask them their opinions and it is extremely important for us to hear their opinions. Afterall, at the end of the day I want to get to the truth. I am not a magician (…) I am a professional and my job is to do the best I can and they help me in that,” he continued.
On that note, Nitzan said it was unacceptable that a bill “comes along and says ‘no, they (the police—ed) won't help you. You won't hear their position. You will read the dry paperwork and make a decision.’”
Furthermore, Nitzan charged that the bill’s implementation would only serve to diminish the effectiveness of the police, encouraging a culture of listlessness during investigations.
“There will be a lot less good work if they are not required to take responsibility and say to us ‘now there is enough of a body of evidence,’” he said.
As the protracted discussions continued, Nitzan highlighted the fundamental problem he believed Amsalem was attempting to remedy, and suggested an alternative focus in the bill.
“It is clear to me that, and I think it is also clear to you, that what worries you is the publication (of the recommendation). Now, it is possible to make a law that focuses on this question of whether it is permissible to publish the police’s position. Let’s suppose this bill passes, do you really think someone who wants to leak ... we won’t read in the papers what the police thinks?
“If there is a bill that says ‘under no circumstances can a (police) position be published’ I can at least understand that there is an interest both for and against. But to get to a result whereby we come and say ‘you will be absolved of responsibility, we cannot cooperate with you’—this is a terrible result for the State of Israel. I ask you to give us the tools that we require,” Nitzan concluded.