Ministers and lawmakers on Monday called for a state inquiry to be set up to look into explosive allegations that Israeli police carried out extensive extrajudicial espionage against dozens of officials, activists and citizens.
Their comments came on the heels of an explosive Calcalist report alleging police used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack into the phones of government officials, mayors, activists, journalists, family members and advisers to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to Monday’s report, police used the software to hack the phones of then chief executives of the finance, justice, communications and transport ministries; prominent businessman Rami Levy; Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and currently a key witness in the trial against Netanyahu; Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg; Avner Netanyahu, the former prime minister’s son; leaders of Ethiopian-Israeli protests against the police; and many more.
The news was condemned by a wide range of lawmakers and officials from all political stripes, who called the report disturbing and deeply concerning.
At a cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said a state commission of inquiry should be established into the scandal.
Police Minister Omer Barlev, who hours earlier had announced the creation of a government commission to investigate the claims, said Monday afternoon he agreed with Saar on the need for an investigation. of State, which is a more solid investigation.
Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended the use of spyware but stressed that it must be regulated and that police officers must be properly trained in its use.
“You want a tool like this to fight crime families and serious crimes. I don’t want to abandon the tool itself, but regulate its use,” he said.
Bennett said that while Pegasus and other similar spyware “are important tools in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, they are not intended for widespread ‘fishing’ among Israeli citizens or public figures in Israel. the State of Israel, so we need to understand exactly what happened.”
Bennett added that he will consult with newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on how to handle the matter. “We understand the seriousness of the matter. We will not leave it unanswered,” he concluded.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has backed the formation of a state commission of inquiry, saying he wants to know if spy technology was used by police against him when he was the subject of a survey more than ten years ago.
Liberman was charged with breach of trust and fraud in 2012, but was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Anyone who knows the facts knows that we are talking about serious violations at the time, and the police commissioner acted like the worst criminal. There was no law he hadn’t broken,” he charged.
Liberman said that, if true, the allegations would be “a magnitude 9 earthquake”.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said a commission of inquiry should be established by the end of this week, adding that the first person to be investigated by the commission should be Likud MK Amir Ohana, who was Minister of Justice from June 2019 to May 2020, then Minister of Public Security until June last year.
“There is a ministerial responsibility. It happened during their shift. They have to give answers to the public,” he said.
Lapid, too, defended the police, saying, “Only criminals will be happy if they’re busted.”
“But along with that, the guardians of the law must be those who follow the rules better than anyone. No one is immune from investigation,” he said, adding that the scandal “clouds Israeli democracy.”
Responding to Lapid, Ohana said he “has nothing to hide.”
“Let’s both get a polygraph: me about NSO, and you about your conversations with [Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes]who was left out of your meeting schedule so no one knows,” he said, according to Hebrew media, calling the top diplomat a “hollow scarecrow.”
Likud MK Yariv Levin has called on the opposition to rally around President Isaac Herzog and urges him to appoint a state commission on the allegations, which he says “every citizen should lose sleep over.”
“It’s not a question of right or left. It’s an abuse, in a terrible way, of the immense power given to law enforcement. Their job is to protect democratic society, not to destroy it and create a situation in which we live under dark regimes,” he said.
Speaking at a conference Monday morning, Herzog said he felt compelled to comment on the allegations.
“The law enforcement system cannot be negligent when enforcing the law,” Herzog said. “Those who apply the law must be meticulous, more than anyone, in all aspects. We can’t lose our democracy, we can’t lose our police and we certainly can’t lose the public’s trust in them.
Herzog said the allegations require “thorough and thorough investigation.”
Notably, Netanyahu did not comment on the allegations during a faction meeting of his Likud party.
Earlier Monday, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai called for an external investigation into the allegations.
“In light of recent reports regarding the use of technological systems by the Israel Police in the years before I took office, I have asked the Minister of Public Security to order the establishment of a review committee external and independent judiciary, headed by a judge, to examine the matter in all its aspects,” Shabtai said in a statement.
The purpose of such an investigation, he said, “is both to restore public confidence in the Israel Police and to regulate the use of technology in the Israel Police.”
Shabtai, who took office in January 2021, promised that any “failures and irregularities” uncovered by the investigation “will be dealt with in accordance with the law”.