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Begin Endorses in Principle Modai’s Demand for Inquiry Commission to Investigate Charges

Minister-With-out-Portfolio Yitzhak Modai’s demand for a commission of inquiry to look into the publication of allegations against him last week has been endorsed in principle by Premier Menachem Begin. There will be ministerial level consultations this week on the precise format of the commission.

Government sources explained over the weekend that what was envisaged was not a full-scale commission of inquiry chaired by a Supreme Court Justice (like the post Yom Kippur War Agranat Commission) but a more modest panel, termed an “investigating committee,” which is also provided for under the law.

The committee will be appointed by Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, who will consult with both Interior Minister Yosef Burg (who has responsibility for the police) and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer (who has statutory responsibility for the Broadcasting. Authority). Modai wants both the police and the television news department to be looked into with a view to preventing in the future publication of allegations that are later proved groundless.

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In Modai’s case, Israel TV last Monday night published as its headline story a report based on a police statement that the police fraud squad was “gathering intelligence data” about accusations that Modai had taken kickbacks from state oil deals during his term as Minister of Energy (1977-81).

Modai claims that the police statement was inaccurate and that the TV news desk played it tendentiously. Two days later Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir and the police issued subsequent statements totally clearing Modai by explaining that the “data” in the hands of the police contained no substantive material.

The “data” was apparently given to the police by Labor MK Yehuda Hashai who three months ago submitted a Knesset question to the Prime Minister on the same subject. Modai has said he would sue Hashai for libel were it not for his parliamentary immunity.

Over the weekend Modai criticized Zamir’s handling of the affair, charging him with “insensitivity.” Modai said in an interview that Zamir need not have waited 48 hours before publicly clearing him, since he knew all along that Hashai’s “data” was unsubstantiated.

On another aspect of the affair, Modai is still at daggers drawn with his fellow Liberal minister and successor as the Energy Minister, Yitzhak Berman, although Liberal Party leader Simcha Ehrlich has pledged to try and make peace between them.

Their animosity was on public show at a Liberal Party Central Committee meeting last Thursday. Modai was warmly cheered and Berman booed by delegates. But Berman took the rostrum to say that he would not forgive Modai for having besmirched him on a TV peak-hour talk show the night before. Modai hit out at Berman for his Ministry’s having announced the creation of a committee to examine Israel’s oil-buying procedure just during the days when the allegations against Modai were headline news.

Berman said the announcement was coincidental and was not in fact initiated by his Ministry, and the actual decision to set up the committee was taken a month ago.

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