Netanyahu vs. the Police and Media: Gag and Rule

The prime minister and a top Likud official understand what anyone interested in totalitarian rule understands: At some point, you have to arrest the journalists

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Police Chief Roni Alsheich, 2015.
Chaim Zach / GPO

As part of the unbridled war Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are waging against “the gatekeepers,” the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee headed by David Amsalem is due to discuss a bill Tuesday that would bar the police from publishing their recommendations on whether or not to indict. This is a bill that Amsalem tailored to the measure of his master, who is embroiled in corruption investigations.

But even with this, Amsalem’s mission was not yet complete. Because what’s the point of a law that gags the police if journalists remain free to report and can’t be stopped from doing so?

After all, even if the law forbids the police to publish their conclusions and recommendations at the end of an investigation, this material will still find its way to the public via the media. Amsalem understands what anyone interested in totalitarian rule understands: At some point, you have to arrest the journalists.

Therefore, he secretly slipped another provision into the bill to be discussed on Tuesday. That bill was approved last week by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation (subject to agreed changes that Amsalem promised to make).

According to Amsalem’s latest proposal, the penal code will be amended to state that anyone who publishes “information from the investigative material or gives such material, without a court’s permission, to a person who is not authorized to receive it” could receive up to one year in prison. The bill would prevent journalists from publishing any material, including testimony or quotes from documents, that is part of an ongoing investigation.

MK David Amsalem (Likud), right, and Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich during a Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, October 31, 2017.
Emil Salman

Any journalist who did publish such material – for instance, from the investigations into the prime minister – would become a criminal and risk imprisonment. Moreover, the bill would deter people involved in an investigation from giving journalists information about it, lest they be jailed.

Speaking on the radio program “Ma Bo’er” on Monday, Amsalem denied that this provision was aimed at journalists, claiming that it was actually aimed at leakers “from the police and the prosecution.” When asked whether journalists were included in the bill, he replied, “Of course not.”

But Amsalem is lying. The provision targeting journalists is written in black on white in the bill’s latest version, which he signed. He tried to slip this in behind the backs of the public and the Knesset, which approved the bill’s original version in a preliminary vote, and panicked when he got caught. It’s a good thing the media is still free to do this.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, both of whom oppose the bill, will have veto power over its further progress through the Knesset. Aside from these ministers and opposition legislators, the bill is also opposed by the police, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

Hopefully the bill’s opponents will thwart it, with or without the provision aimed at journalists, and put an end to this farce, whose whole purpose is to blindly defend a prime minister suspected of committing crimes.

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