Israeli Lawmakers Hold Marathon Debate on Bill That Would Weaken Police as Opposition Attempts Filibuster

Opposition lawmakers have been allotted 45 hours to make their reservations to the so-called recommendations law, which critics say was designed to protect Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset plenary session.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset launched a marathon debate overnight Monday before a planned vote to pass legislation that forbids police investigators, except in rare circumstances, from submitting written recommendations to the prosecution on whether to indict a suspect.

The bill, which has been dubbed “the recommendations bill,” would not apply to investigations in progress before the bill were to go into effect, which would include the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dubbed Case 1000 and Case 2000, and the investigation of Likud MK David Bitan.

"In the State of Israel justice will rule supreme," said Likud MK Benny Begin, adding that Netanyahu wants that the public, when forced to choose between the criminal and the police, will choose the criminal.  

Opposition MKs have been allotted 45 hours to make their reservations to the bill known, which led to the cancellation of all of Tuesday’s Knesset committee meetings, including one on preparing the “supermarket bill” regulating Shabbat commerce for its final votes, and an appearance by Netanyahu before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Ministers and coalition MKs have been told to be prepared for any opposition maneuvers and to stay away no longer than half an hour from the Knesset until the vote takes place. The opposition is permitted to halt its speeches any time it chooses and then give the government an hour’s notice before starting the vote.

Under the most updated version of the bill, in probes overseen by an accompanying prosecutor, which is the case in most investigations involving public figures, police will not be able to submit their recommendations to the prosecution at its own initiative, but the attorney general or the state prosecutor can ask the police to do so if they believe it is vital to making a decision on whether to prosecute.

The police, however, can attach a document to the file summing up the evidentiary basis that in its opinion supports the allegations against the suspects.

The bill also states that public servants, including detectives or prosecutors, who leak the police recommendations or an investigation summary will be prosecuted under the existing clause in the penal code that calls for up to three years’ imprisonment for public servants who leak information without authorization.

There were disagreements in the Knesset Monday night on whether the bill would apply to Netanyahu if he becomes a suspect in the future in cases that are already being investigated, but which do not include him at present, like the Case 3000 probe into possible graft in the procurement of submarines, or the Bezeq investigations involving alleged fraud and breach of trust by Netanyahu associates.

According to a coalition MK, “The law clearly states that it does not apply to an investigation opened before it goes into effect. In other words, even if there are findings against Netanyahu in the submarine case or the Bezeq case, the police will be able to publish their recommendations.” The sponsor of the bill, Likud MK David Amsalem, who last week was named coalition whip, agrees, and said so during a Knesset Interior Committee hearing last week on finalizing the bill for passage.

“Overall we are talking about new investigations and not about people. That means if a certain investigation was going on and something hasn’t happened, and then it does happen, it’s still an old investigation,” said Amsalem. The interior committee’s legal adviser, Ido Ben Yitzhak, said at that hearing, “The ones who know if an investigation has been opened or not are the police. When it transfers the case to the prosecution, the whole process of the investigation is written there, you can see when it was opened. And that applies even if we don’t know about an investigation taking place now.”

By contrast, MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said, “The recommendations law will still serve Netanyahu. It’s not for nothing that the coalition is so hot to pass it even at the price of canceling all the Knesset’s other activities. Although the law will apply only to new investigations, it will protect him from the publication of recommendations in investigations that haven’t been opened against him yet, like the submarine case and the Bezeq case.”

Khenin continued, “This week gives more proof. The only real agenda left for this government is saving Netanyahu from the police. For this they are prepared to throw aside the real problems of Israel’s citizens.”

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay told a meeting of his faction Monday that the recommendations bill is “a law that works completely against the public and favors crime organizations and corrupt public servants.” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said at a meeting of the party’s MKs, “The recommendations bill is an abomination. They live in their own country, a corrupt country where everything is aimed at one goal – to serve the ruler.”

In an effort to fill the lengthy hours of speeches, Zionist Union whip MK Yoel Hasson publicized a phone number to which the public can send text messages condemning the bill, which opposition MKs would read from the podium.

Hasson also attacked Amsalem on Monday, saying, “A coalition whip who can look the public in the eye would have postponed the debate on the recommendations law for a week so that the Knesset can finish the legislation it needs on the disabled, so it can meet the deadline it committed to. It’s no surprise that Amsalem, who was appointed to the post based on a single criterion – blind loyalty to Netanyahu – simply isn’t too interested in the public.”