Editorial |

Police Lied About Spying on Israelis, but Was Forced to Admit the Truth

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Police face off with protesters in Jerusalem in 2021
Police face off with protesters in Jerusalem in 2021Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The ink wasn’t even dry on the denial issued by the Israel Police about its use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware when it had to admit that there were indeed “irregularities” in the use of the software against civilians and that indeed phones were tapped in violation of the procedures outlined by the attorney general.

According to the police statement on Tuesday, additional finds uncovered in the investigation “change the picture in some ways,” after alleged use of NSO spyware was first revealed by the daily Calcalist. And the spyware used was not Pegasus, but other software, law enforcement sources said, as if the main point that concerns the public is the exact spyware being used to surveil people.

In other words: The police lied first– “the Israel Police does not use its advanced technological abilities against innocent citizens and protesters,” Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said when the story broke – and only afterward started checking more thoroughly, under pressure from the attorney general.

The police have declined to say how many irregular incidents were found, but they made sure to stress that they all occurred during the term of the previous police commissioner, Roni Alsheich, and not under the current command. How convenient, and how suspicious. It’s not me, it’s Alsheich. Following the “additional findings,” the Justice Ministry made clear that the police have been directed to “take immediate steps to avoid overstepping its authority.”

The speed with which the police moved from boastful denial to conceding “irregularities,” as well as the speed with which the Justice Ministry has already declared the remedy, are not a sign of real self scrutiny, as befits such a serious affair. It is mainly an attempt to quiet public opinion and quash a significant external examination of the matter.

A probe by a committee appointed by outgoing Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Knesset committee discussions are not enough for the stable cleaning needed here. The fact that some of those “irregularities” were approved by the justice system, but that the approvals were used in ways that did not conform to the law, proves that the problem is much deeper and includes flaws not only in the work of the police but of oversight by the legal authorities.

That is the reason that the justice system must not be allowed to investigate itself. Alongside a serious examination of the wiretapping law, which has been made obsolete in light of technological advancements, an external investigative committee is needed to probe the failures of both the police and the justice system.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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