After several postponements, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich finally appeared before the Knesset Interior Committee Tuesday to answer questions Knesset members had about accusations he has hinted at against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The session was a microcosm of the divisions the police investigations into corruption on the part of the prime minister has engendered in Israeli society – with plenty of shouting and yelling, and four MKs ejected for rowdy behavior.
The reason Alsheich was invited to speak to MKs was due to comments he made in an interview several weeks ago, more or less accusing Netanyahu of trying to sabotage the police investigations against him. “The investigators in the Netanyahu case are constantly pestered by people who annoy their families, their neighbors, and who appear to be collecting information about them. These are professionals who know what they are doing,” Alsheich said in the interview. “I didn’t say politicians were behind this, but I do say that certain powerful people – and we know who they are – have hired them,” he added.
The comments generated a storm of criticism, from Netanyahu and his supporters. “It is shocking that the Police Chief will once again allude to the lie that the Prime Minister sent private investigators to spy on police investigators,” Netanyahu wrote in a social media post. “It is shocking that the Police Chief would hint that the Prime Minister was involved in a case of assault. Any sane person would look at these comments and ask how the Police Chief would be able to conduct an impartial investigation of the Prime Minister.”
In response to that post, opposition MKs accused Netanyahu of “disrespecting” police and casting aspersions on their honesty. Zionist Camp chairperson Avi Gabay said that Netanyahu “is acting like a senior mob boss, attacking police and prosecutors. Netanyahu is shaming the Police Chief, and this is unfair. Instead of asking for the investigation to be completed quickly, Netanyahu instead tries to strip Israelis of their faith in police. I expect Netanyahu to apologize for these comments.”
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid also slammed Netanyahu, saying that “his attack on police even before they make their recommendations is an act of desperation who is trying to use his high position to threaten the legal authorities and to insult the police that protect us.”
Similar opinions were sounded in Tuesday’s committee meeting. MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) said that “the interview didn’t make sense. You would never find the IDF Chief of Staff making such comments publicly about the defense minister.” Smotrich told Alsheich that “you are not a Knesset member and you are not a minister. You are supposed to work behind the scenes. It’s not your job to grade the prime minister on his performance. This interview was, from start to finish, a road wreck, and should never have been given, much less under the current circumstances.”
Opposition MKs took offense that Alsheich was being questioned in the first place, and several began shouting almost as soon as the session began, calling the session “shameful” and “an attempt to interfere with police business.”
Ejected just minutes after the session began – when they refused to calm down – were opposition Zionist Camp MKs Leah Fadida, Yossi Yonah and Miki Rosenthal, and United Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi.
Speaking on behalf of the opposition MK Leah Swed accused Committee chairperson MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) of trying to “bully” the chief. “When you organize a meeting like this as police are announcing the conclusions of their investigations, you are sending a clear message that you have no faith in police – and as a Likud member, you are subtly threatening police.” Swed accused the coalition of subjecting Alsheich to a “wartime field trial. He is not the one on trial here.”
For his part, Alsheich said that he had made no specific references to Netanyahu in the interview. “Police deal with sensitive issues, all day and every day,” he told MKs. “We are under constant pressure from politicians, who daily try to influence us. We realize that investigating a prime minister or other senior official is a very sensitive manner. Our main objective is to remain professional. We are not part of the political game, and this is the only way we can do our job properly. We are not left or right. We are on the side of the law. I believe this is the right path to take.”