Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues continue to bend legal and moral standards to serve the prime minister in his struggles with the law. Along with a bill that would prohibit the investigation of a sitting prime minister (the “French law”), the law blocking the publication of police recommendations regarding the indictment of public figures and a proposal to lower the police commissioner’s salary, we now have an attack on the institution of turning state’s evidence.
On Wednesday Netanyahu accused the police of suborning “people they claim committed some offense” into giving false evidence using threats. “They say to them, ‘Your lives are over, your families’ lives are over. We will take almost everything from you, including your freedom. You want to get out of it? There’s one way out — give us dirt on Netanyahu. It doesn’t matter if you tell ridiculous lies.’”
Earlier Wednesday, in an interview with Reshet Bet Radio, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he was “very uncomfortable with state witnesses getting off scot-free.” He explained, “A state witness is also a criminal; he’s not someone who acted out of moral motivations and I don’t think it would be right to totally exempt him from punishment.” He was referring to the state’s evidence agreement signed with Nir Hefetz, a close aide and confidant of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu. Hefetz is in the midst of giving detailed statements to police investigators, in return for which he will not be prosecuted for whatever offenses he may have committed.
The remarks by Netanyahu and Erdan are a blatant effort to undermine the police and the prosecution. In contrast to Erdan’s implications, however, state’s evidence agreements granting complete immunity from prosecution are extremely rare, and the investigations involving Netanyahu are no different. No state witness besides Hefetz received such broad immunity.
A 2005 directive of the attorney general guide the prosecution and the attorney general when they consider signing a state’s evidence agreement with a suspect. The directive specifies what benefits can be offered to someone who turns state’s evidence. First on the list is “a promise not to prosecute for the offenses in the case.” In addition, a state’s evidence agreement should be considered a last resort, offered only after all other avenues of investigation have been exhausted and the testimony is judged necessary. It must also follow a review of the potential of the evidence the witness can provide, its centrality to the case, its credibility and the seriousness of the offense to which his testimony pertains. The public interest in resolving the case must also be considered.
If the public security minister doesn’t recognize that the public interest in getting at the truth in the Netanyahu cases might justify full immunity for a witness who was exceptionally close to the prime minister, and if he doesn’t understand what his own role should be when the prime minister is lashing out dangerously at the police, it would be best if he resigned.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.