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Netanyahu's Bad Cop Is Retiring, but That Might Not Help Him

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Meni Yitzhaki.
Meni Yitzhaki.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Some seemingly brilliant moves often mask stupidity, while some seemingly foolish moves sometimes hide razor- sharp thinking. The statement issued Monday by the police spokesman’s unit apparently falls into the second category.

The laconic announcement stated, “The Israel Police have begun their round of senior appointments for 2017. As a first step, agreement has been reached regarding the retirement of members of the police command.” That is followed by a list of six officers, three majors-general and three brigadier-generals.

What’s the point of announcing retirements to come later in the year, when their replacements have yet to be determined? On the face of it, it seems foolish, provided you ignore the name at the top of the list, because the others are there only to flesh out and embellish that one. The first name is Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, the head of the investigations and intelligence branch (known by its Hebrew acronym, AHAM), who is coordinating the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yitzhaki isn’t walking out, certainly not for another six months. He will remain until “summer,” which could mean anything from July to after the fall holidays, which begin September 21. It could end up being a long Indian summer, even though the Netanyahu cases, which aren’t that complicated, are meant to be transferred to Yitzhaki by the National Fraud Squad while he is still on the job.

Every rookie detective know that he need to find the motive in order to nab the suspect. So who had a reason to depict Yitzhaki as a lame duck who won’t be able to get his hands on the fleeing thief? Who might be looking to take the wind out of the investigators’ sails during a critical stage of the investigation? Who wants to curry favor with the suspect at the detective’s expense? And who is hinting to Yitzhaki’s most natural successor, fraud squad commander Roni Ritman, that his promotion to the top job in the police isn’t necessarily in his pocket – unless, of course, he behaves himself?

Senior police appointments must be made jointly by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh. Either one can cast a veto. Thus, if the two cannot agree, the post investigations and intelligence branch chief could remain empty once Yitzhaki retires. In that case, its authority, which rivals that of the attorney general and state prosecutor, would have to be transferred to another officer. For example, to Alsheikh himself.

If Netanyahu’s cases take longer than expected to complete, the acting head of the branch will be able to examine the fraud squad’s recommendation to prosecute and decide not to accept it. That would be welcomed by those hoping to bury the cases.

In any event, it will be in Alsheikh’s power to exploit Yitzhaki’s exit before a replacement is named, in order to implement his big plan the fraud squad and all the other investigative units subordinate directly to himself. Even if this move will come too late to help Netanyahu, from that moment on every politician will know that his fate is in the hands of the police commissioner alone.

The material in both Netanyahu cases – the one involving alleged perks from businessmen and the one regarding an alleged deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes — is piling up. In the latter case, what’s allegedly involved might not be a classic bribe, but it certainly smacks of a very specific type – election bribery.

No one disputes the critical timing of the recorded conversation between the prime minister and the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher. The crucial discussion focused on the actions expected of both sides in the run-up to the 2013 elections. It doesn’t matter that the deal didn’t go through because Netanyahu wanted immediate action – more favorable coverage – while Mozes needed more time to enlist his newspaper to deliver the goods. The heart of the matter is the link between the deal and the elections.

From time to time, the media reports on the attorney-general’s guidelines regarding Section 122 of the Knesset Elections Law, which calls for five years’ imprisonment or a fine for “anyone who gives, or suggests” – or agrees to accept – “bribery in order to influence a voter to vote or not to vote, at all or for a specific list of candidates.” The law, hinting clearly at the rabbis and mystics who helped Netanyahu defeat Shimon Peres in 1996, also deals with attempts to persuade voters by using curses, excommunication or the promise of a blessing.

The next section, 123, makes it clear that an action could still constitute bribery “if there was a different gain that influenced the actions of another.” Even a hotel room or a meal that goes beyond coffee and cake constitutes a benefit that could be considered election bribery, “if it was done to try to influence a group of voters.” Previous attorney generals have noted that providing a benefit to a rabbi “in order to get him to call on his adherents to vote a certain way, or a sports figure, who then calls on his team’s fans to vote for a certain party,” would also fall under this category.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is surely an expert in the guidelines formulated by his predecessors that characterized election bribery as “Giving a benefit to someone with influence, including the head of a community or an ethnic group or a social leader or the like, when the benefit is given to them not because of their ability to advocate and not because of their actual deeds in the realm of public diplomacy, but so that they themselves should be influenced and persuade those subject to their influence to vote for the candidate.”

Given the details mentioned by Netanyahu and Mozes in their conversations, including the naming of specific editors and reporters, Mendelblit will have a hard time claiming that under these circumstances the publisher and editor-in-chief of a major newspaper is not a akin to “the head of a community or an ethnic group or a social leader or the like who would be influenced himself and persuade those subject to his influence.”

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