In an ideal world, our politicians would extol the virtues of a strong executive branch of government as a bulwark against dishonesty. Enforcing the law, keeping order and guarding against misconduct keep our politicians on the straight and narrow. Corruption, as the Supreme Court has noted, truly is a cancer in the body of the polity. Strengthening the hand of police, prosecutors, judges and the attorney- general who work to weed out and eradicate corruption wherever it might be found – including in the corridors of government – is imperative for the continued health of democracy.
Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in the past few weeks has been the exact opposite. Not only have members of the government coalition failed to acknowledge and appreciate the rule of law and those in the executive branch tasked with protecting it, they have launched an attack in the form of legislative initiatives seeking to weaken the ability of law enforcers to do their job.
It is impossible to view this attack by lawmakers on law enforcement in isolation from the ongoing investigation into possible wrongdoings by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just one day before Netanyahu was questioned for the fifth time by police from the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, members of his Likud party successfully advanced legislation in the Knesset that would make it a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence for police investigators to make recommendations of any kind to state prosecutors – whether they be to indict or not.
The same Likud Knesset members – David Amsalem and David Bitan – are aggressively pushing what has been termed the “French law” that would prevent police from investigating a serving prime minister for all but the most severe criminal offenses. Corruption is not deemed “severe” in this context.
And Amsalem has also called to reduce the salary of the police commissioner.
Quoting false data, Amsalem claimed Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich earns NIS 97,400 per month (he earns NIS 82,700) while an entry level officer earns just NIS 6,000.
“So if he [Alsheich] would receive NIS 40,000 and he [the police officer] receives NIS 10,000, that isn’t better? That doesn’t sound more fair? If I were the police commissioner, I wouldn’t take NIS 100,000, my conscience wouldn’t allow it,” said Amsalem.
Taken individually and outside the context of the ongoing police investigations against Netanyahu, the initiatives by Bitan and Amsalem might be reasonable. But it is impossible to ignore the context.
The bill approved in a preliminary reading this week in the Knesset, in a 52 to 42 vote, that would prevent police from making recommendations would, if passed in a final reading, probably be applicable to the ongoing investigation against Netanyahu.
Though he was pressed repeatedly in an interview on Army Radio on Thursday by Ilana Dayan, Kulanu faction chairman MK Roy Folkman refused to say whether his party would insist that the legislation, which will be redrafted before final passage, not be applicable to Netanyahu’s cases.
Kulanu is the only party in Netanyahu’s coalition that has stood up in the past against attempts to weaken the rule of law. But in the vote on legislation against police investigators, Kulanu voted in favor except for MK Rachel Azaria, who should be commended for her integrity.
All of these initiatives taken together at a time when the prime minister is under investigation by police constitute nothing less than an attack on the fabric of our democracy. It might be unrealistic to expect a full-throated and unabashed defense of our executive branch from coalition politicians. What we should be spared, however, is a cynical attempt by politicians to intimidate law enforcement officers and prevent them from doing their job.