A Knesset legal adviser told lawmakers on Sunday that it would be “problematic” to legislate a controversial bill to prevent criminally indicted politicians from forming a government as an election looms.
Nonetheless, the coalition has pushed ahead with its long-running bid that could prevent opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu from leading the next government, backing legislation that could be fast-tracked ahead of the Knesset’s scheduled dissolution in the coming days.
The oft-discussed but so far not advanced bill would amend a quasi-constitutional law to bar someone impeached for a serious crime from serving as prime minister. Netanyahu is currently on trial for three separate corruption cases and is the coalition’s main political rival.
Netanyahu supporters accuse supporters of the bill of personally targeting Netanyahu and now changing the rules of the game shortly before an election. His supporters say a defendant should not be a candidate for the highest political office.
A Knesset legal adviser told the Knesset’s Constitutional, Legal and Judiciary Committee on Sunday morning that it would be “problematic” to legislate on the controversial bill, given the proximity of the elections.
“It is certainly very problematic to legislate such a law at this time when we find ourselves de facto at the start of an election period,” Gur Blai told the committee.
The committee had met to discuss the merits of the effort to bar defendants from appearing, without reaching a conclusion on whether the committee would advance its own version of the defendants bill in the future.
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Gilad Kariv (Labour) noted that even Netanyahu had supported putting in place safeguards around the qualifications of prime minister candidates when it had been politically expedient to him to do it.
“It was opposition President Netanyahu who backed the chilling laws for senior officials and senior commanders of the Israel Defense Forces in an effort to prevent specific figures from entering the political arena. “, said Kariv, referring to the rules. which impose a two-year waiting period before entering politics.
Despite Blai’s concerns, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted in favor of two proposals that also seek to bar the defendants. The committee does not formally advance legislation, but decides whether the coalition will support individual MKs’ proposals, helping push legislation through the Knesset.
Wayward Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar, who sponsored a version of the bill, wrote on Twitter that he was “happy” the bill moved forward and that he hopes it will soon be presented to the plenum.
“I really hope that this bill will not be taken as a bargaining chip,” he added, writing that “the bill should be presented for first reading soon, without delay.”
As the opposition and its allies delay calling a snap election to give Netanyahu time to form an alternative government instead, some see the bill as a sword of Damocles on the opposition leader’s head , which could encourage him to abandon his candidacy.
The first opportunity to vote would be Wednesday. A spokesman for Meretz MK Gaby Lasky, who sponsored the other version of the bill approved on Sunday, said it was unclear when – if at all – the bills would pass.
Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced plans to dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to its fifth election since 2019.
Shortly thereafter, Bennett lifted his Yamina party’s veto on passage of the defendants bill, allowing Yisrael Beytenu leader and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Lapid to push for its passage, a long-time goal.
As the government tries to relax by passing a law to disperse the Knesset, the coalition and the opposition have tried to negotiate outstanding issues, such as an agreed date for the elections, the final legislation to be passed and other cleaning items.
The talks were spearheaded by Likud faction chairman Yariv Levin but have been stalled since last Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. Levin was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday of last week.
The coalition is trying to push for disbandment as quickly as possible, to limit the ability of the opposition to form an alternative government under Netanyahu and topple the current coalition without elections. The opposition is expected to slow down the dispersal process, which began on Wednesday and has already been postponed until Monday, when the dissolution bills will then be discussed in the Knesset committee.
However, on Sunday, a Knesset legal adviser said Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who heads the committee backing the dispersal bill, cannot unduly delay it.
The defendants bill has long infuriated Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party. During the committee discussion on Sunday morning, Likud MK Miri Regev called it a “political assassination” against her party leader.
“It is not the law of the criminal defendant. This is the law, this is a political assassination against Bibi Netanyahu,” Regev said, using the Likud leader’s nickname.
Likud MK Amir Ohana also voiced his party’s longstanding stance on the bill, accusing the law of being “personal” against Netanyahu and, as such, an “attack on democracy.” “.
“A day will come, and it’s not far off, when the public will be ashamed of you and regurgitate you for the assault on democracy you are trying to inflict. What you are trying to do now is deprive the person with the broadest public support from running for the Knesset,” Ohana said during the committee discussion.
Ohana, a former public security minister, also repeated a common Likud claim that the bill would let “a clerk decide” who can and cannot be prime minister. Criminal indictments typically reflect the work of a large number of law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
Supporters of the bill, on the other hand, claimed the bill was necessary because Israeli political standards did not prevent politicians accused of crimes from stepping down.
“If only we didn’t need this law, because in a proper country a defendant stands up and resigns [political life]said Yesh Atid MK Inbar Bezek.
“Even if it is not optimal to do it now, the week we disperse the Knesset, it is our responsibility to the voters,” she added, saying her party promised to root out corruption. .
Kariv has raised the possibility of drafting the bill to apply only to the next round of elections, to avoid accusations of being designed to prevent Netanyahu’s ascension to premier. minister.
Although most of the committee’s discussion was relatively subdued for its subject matter, far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, who chairs the Otzma Yehudit party within the Religious Zionism faction, called the committee a “circus”. after he was kicked out of the discussion for calling Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi of the Joint (Arab) List a “terrorist.”
“You are a terrorist. You support terror. Go to Syria! shouted Ben Gvir, interrupting Saadi’s words in favor of the bill.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has also backed Justice Minister Gideon Saar’s bill to limit the prime minister’s term of office to eight consecutive years.
Although it would not apply retroactively, the bill is also seen as a blow to Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the post for 12 years in a row.
A previous effort to pass the term limits bill expired in May, when the coalition lacked the votes to complete its legislative process.