Attorney General Calls for Suspending Probe Into Police Oversight Unit Until After Israeli Election

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Justice Minister Amir Ohana at Tel Aviv University, November 4, 2019.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Justice Minister Amir Ohana at Tel Aviv University, November 4, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit called on Friday to suspend a probe into the Justice Ministry unit that investigates complaints against police, pending a high court decision on the issue.

Mendelblit’s statement is a part of his response to a High Court of Justice petition. The investigative committee into the unit had been launched last week despite his objections, as Mendelblit had felt the panel’s work should wait until a new government is formed after the March 2 general election.

On Saturday, the lawyers representing the state in the case told the court the government isn't bound by Mendelblit's directive. They also said the attorney general's claims were "misguided" and "biased."

Justice Minister and Likud lawmaker Amir Ohana initiated the committee, following protests by Israelis of Ethiopian descent, at a timing that suggests an attempt to placate this community before voters go to the polls.

Ohana said the committee was necessary because the police investigation unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Mahash, could not adequately audit the police so long as it and the Israel Police were subordinate to the state prosecution.

There is a "most significant suspicion," Mendelblit wrote, that any government decision about the committee at the current moment is motivated by election campaigning.

There is no urgent need to establish a committee to probe the unit now, he wrote, with the election mere weeks away. Mendelblit asked the court to issue an interim order halting the committee’s work until decisions are made on the petitions against it, reiterating that there is no urgency.

Earlier this week, the committee postponed a session to hear testimony from the Justice Ministry unit's head, Keren Bar Menachem and other witnesses until after the elections, due to what it described as an accumulation of appeals by the public and a need to examine them.

A legal source close to the committee told Haaretz that the decision on postponing the testimony was made in the context of petitions filed to the high court against the committee’s work and a desire to continue operating without leaving room for accusations that the committee is politically biased.

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