Israel: Parliament approves law that shields Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu Israel

The Knesset (Israeli Parliament) approved this morning (03.23.2023) a law that shields Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the possibility of being challenged or declared unfit to perform the functions of his position, while he has an open trial for various charges of corruption.

The law passed its third and final reading at 6:00 a.m. after an all-night plenary session with 61 votes in favor to 47 against, after long and heated discussions.

The norm is part of the controversial judicial reform promoted by the Netanyahu government that has caused a wide social response with massive protests throughout the country that lasted for almost three months, and which is seen as a threat to democracy by subtracting independence from the Judiciary and subtract the supervisory powers of the Supreme Court.

The opposition raised numerous objections to that legislation, which was processed in an accelerated manner, and is considered “tailor-made” to protect Netanyahu, who faces serious legal problems with three open cases for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, charges that he denies.

The legislation explicitly prevents the Supreme Court from ordering a prime minister to take a “leave of absence”, seen as a reaction to fears that the court could force Netanyahu to resign over a conflict of interest as the leader of a government coalition promoting drastic judicial reform while facing several corruption charges.

Under the new recusal law, only a three-quarters majority of the votes of government ministers, followed by ratification by the same percentage of deputies (at least 90 MPs), can force a prime minister to take a temporary license, and only for physical or mental health reasons.

The reform seeks to give the Government full control over the appointment of judges, including those of the Supreme Court, which could have a direct impact on a possible appeal of the verdict of his current trial; in addition to including a controversial “annulment clause” that would allow Parliament to reverse Supreme Court rulings or even shield laws so that they cannot be submitted to the constitutionality review of that court.

Defenders of the change argue that the reform is designed to protect the will of voters from the overreach of the courts, but critics argue that it removes regulations intended to prevent public servants from using their authority for personal gain.