Investigations Die in Darkness

It’s not enough to let prosecutors see police recommendations, the public needs to see them too

Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 26, 2017.

The Knesset on Monday passed, in the first of three voting rounds, a bill that would conceal from the public the recommendations of the police in regard to important criminal investigations. The vote followed an accelerated debate in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, which is headed by one of the prime minister’s devoted servants, MK David Amsalem.

The claim that this bill and the efforts to advance it at lightning speed are unrelated to the criminal investigations against Benjamin Netanyahu is ludicrous. Amsalem and his colleagues in the coalition have insisted that the bill will apply to current investigations, thus proving that they are working to keep the public from hearing the police position on the evidence collected against Netanyahu in regard to the offenses of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.

After facing objections from the state prosecutor and attorney general, Amsalem amended the bill to allow the prosecution to request the summary report from the police, even in investigations that were not overseen by a prosecutor from the start. This change prevents a broader impediment to the legal process. Now the bill is focused on preventing the police recommendations from becoming public, on the grounds that “we shouldn’t ruin the suspect’s life,” since there’s a chance the prosecution will close the case without filing charges.

This is a misleading argument for two reasons. First, the police only issue recommendations in cases involving public figures, in which there’s a clear public interest in clarifying the suspicions. Second, the logic underlying this argument could lead to the creation of a dangerous norm: If we must conceal the results of the investigation on the chance that the case will later be closed, then in the future it will be possible to argue that we should also conceal the indictment of a public figure, since it could end in acquittal. And if there is a conviction, perhaps that should also be hidden from the public, lest it be overturned on appeal.

This would undermine a fundamental principle of the justice system — the principle that the legal process should be public, which stems from the societal need for legal proceedings to be conducted transparently. And when it comes to public figures, scrupulous attention to transparency and openness is even more important.

This is due, first of all, to the public’s right to information about criminal cases against their elected representatives. Secondly, public oversight is needed to ensure, on one hand, that elected officials aren’t being persecuted by the law enforcement agencies, and on the other, that genuine crimes aren’t being covered up. Investigations conducted in darkness also provide fertile ground for conspiracy theories about people being framed.

This bill, even in its current form, does not belong on Israel’s books. If the Knesset gives it final approval, we can only hope the High Court of Justice will overturn it.

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