Israel Passes Police-muzzling Bill After Marathon Filibuster Attempt

Opposition party announces it will submit a petition to the High Court of Justice against the law, which limits the publication of police recommendations after an investigation

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with coalition whip MK David Amsalem at a Knesset meeting, December 25, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with coalition whip MK David Amsalem at a Knesset meeting, December 25, 2017.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A bill restricting the publication of police recommendations at the conclusion of certain investigations passed its final legal hurdle overnight Wednesday. After a 43-hour filibuster, the bill was voted in by a majority of 59 Knesset members, with 54 opposing.

The so-called Recommendations Law will prevent police recommendations of indictment to the attorney general at the end of investigations in which an attorney is involved, which is often the case in investigations involving public officials. The final version of the law passed will not apply to probes currently underway against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Opposition party Yesh Atid announced it would submit a petition to the High Court of Justice against the law on Thursday morning. "The law severely and materially harms the principle of equality before the law," states the petition. "The sweeping ban on releasing the recommendations critically impairs the public's right to know, the freedom of the press and the freedom of political expression."

Commenting on the drawn out opposition aimed at stiffling the bill, which lasted 43 hours out of the 45 permitted, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that even though the chances for changing the law were slim, the marathon session held additional importance: “The filibuster was meant to make people aware that something corrupt was happening. This is not an individual law but an ongoing campaign along the entire front, with the goal of slaughtering the gatekeepers.”

The final version of the bill to be brought to a vote is significantly different from the original, which was designed to restrict the recommendations of investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The new version does not apply to investigations already underway, even if they have not yet been made public. Therefore, if it passes, the law will not apply to the corruption investigations surrounding Netanyahu, known as "Case 1000" and "Case 2000," nor the submarines affair or the bribery allegations against former coalition whip David Bitan.

The version of the bill presented to lawmakers on Tuesday sets three basic principles: It anchors the protocols the police have been following for the last 15 years, which prohibit investigators from recommending that suspects be indicted. It instead instructs investigators to create a document stating whether there is sufficient evidence that the suspects violated the law.

In investigations that include an accompanying attorney, usually those involving public officials or crime organizations, the police will not be permitted to automatically transfer this document to state prosecutors – this will be done only at the request of the attorney general or the state prosecutor. The legislation does not prohibit an oral exchange of information in discussions between investigators and attorneys. In other investigations, the police will be required to transfer the document to the State Prosecutor’s Office.

In addition, the new legislation would allow the attorney general to determine which officials in the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office are authorized to release the document, which explains the evidence underlying the recommendations, to the public. Investigators or attorneys without authorization who leak the materials could be subject to a three-year prison sentence, a clause which already exists in the law books. The attorney general will publish his directives on the matter within three months.

Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid and Zionist Union lawmakers Omer Bar-Lev, Yossi Yonah, Eitan Cabel, and Michal Biran participated in the filibuster. After the members of the opposition conclude their remarks, five lawmakers from the coalition are allowed to speak and pass the time until all cabinet members and lawmakers make it to the building so there is a majority for passing the bill.

“The ratification of this bill is proceeding mainly in order to maintain the dignity of MK David Amsalem, who vigorously presented and promoted it,” said a senior Likud official. He added that “Netanyahu realized that the new law wouldn’t help him and that most of it had been defanged by Kulanu MKs. Practically, there won’t be much change in the way law enforcement agencies conduct their business.”

Another lawmaker who wished to remain anonymous said on Tuesday that “for the Likud leadership, this move has met its goals. This was an opportunity to scare the police and the State Prosecutor’s office, adding fuel to the public discussion around the law. The fact that the law was dramatically softened is less important.”

A month after being criticized for the absence of 16 lawmakers during an earlier round of voting on the Recommendations Law, the opposition completed one of its most significant campaigns since the beginning of this Knesset term. One after the other, members of the opposition went up to the podium and either gave principled arguments or using gimmicks aimed at expressing their opposition to the bill and to the attitude of the coalition and the prime minister toward law enforcement agencies. “Politicians in power use it to enrich themselves” said MK Prof. Yossi Yonah, giving an academic lecture from the podium while quoting Nobel Prize Laureate John Steinbeck, who said, “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts ... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”

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