There's No Good Time to Launch an Investigation on Israel's Political Calendar

Yuval Yoaz
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A labourer hangs a banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 17, 2020.
A labourer hangs a banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 17, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Yuval Yoaz

The criticism of Acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad began the minute he decided to launch a criminal investigation of the cybersecurity company Fifth Dimension. How easy it is to conclude that this is a “political” investigation – it obviously screams out due to the circumstances: Eldad was appointed, despite the opposition of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, by Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who is himself a personal appointee of a prime minister facing criminal proceedings, in a transitional government that is functioning without having obtained the confidence of the Knesset. On Thursday, less than two weeks before the election, Eldad against a company that was headed by Benny Gantz, who is threatening to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

These claims require one to look at the principles that should be followed in the heated arena of criminal proceedings when they are juxtaposed with a political timetable. Claims that legal proceedings are unseemly because of their timing have always been made: Why should police recommendations be made public just before the party’s central committee convenes; why should a suspect be called in for questioning one week before primaries; why should an indictment subject to a hearing be announced two days before coalition negotiations begin, and so on. If you ask conspiracy theorists, there is no day on which law enforcement authorities can do their work.

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The appropriate principle is that one should not link actions on the legal front with a political timetable, election or no election. Any other approach brings irrelevant considerations into law enforcement procedures, which is reprehensible in itself, and is something that will always draw criticism that taking legal action has benefitted or harmed a particular political camp. The Justice Ministry accepts this principle, unfortunately with an asterisk which adds that occasionally, political sensitivities close to an election are taken into account to prevent misuse of law enforcement agencies for the harming of political rivals.

Therefore, the question is not why Eldad chose to announce the investigation of Fifth Dimension close to the election, but whether this decision was made as part of a normal process of decision-making by state prosecutors, without an eye toward speeding things up or slowing them down for ulterior motives.

This can be answered by Eldad himself, and it would behoove him to offer the public some explanation. The State Prosecutor’s Office should explain what happened, what was investigated and what were the waystations in that process during the year after the last February, leading to this decision.

Another question involves the clarification that the investigation is only directed against the company and that Gantz is not a suspect. The announcements by the attorney general and Eldad did not explicitly clarify this, which makes one wonder. In February 2017, when it was decided to launch an investigation into the affair involving alleged corruption in the procurement of submarines, the Justice Ministry was careful to note that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not a suspect in that affair. It would be appropriate to do so in Gantz’s case as well, and to add that this would be looked into again in the future, as evidence accumulates that might warrant defining him as a suspect. If it turns out that the decision to investigate Fifth Dimension is a result of regular work procedures at the State Prosecutor’s office, even if they are annoyingly sluggish, then there is nothing wrong with it. Law enforcement agencies must remain untainted by political considerations, meaning that investigations should not be enhanced or delayed by extraneous considerations.