Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GALI TIBBON/POOL)
The Knesset approved legislation that would impact the outcome of ongoing investigations into alleged corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a first reading Monday.
The bill prevents police from making a recommendation to the Attorney-General’s Office as to whether to indict a suspect in cases with an accompanying state attorney, which are usually high-profile cases, such as Netanyahu’s, unless the attorney-general specifically asks for one.
The bill originally banned all police recommendations, then only in cases with an accompanying prosecutor, and on Monday the Knesset Interior Committee – whose chairman, Likud MK David Amsalem, proposed the bill – amended it to leave the matter to the attorney-general’s discretion.
The second part of the bill deals with prosecuting those who leak details of investigations to the press. No police recommendations on any case may be made public, and leaks can carry a penalty of as much as a year in prison.
Opponents argue that the bill undermines the police’s authority as it completes the investigations into allegations against the prime minister, who was notably absent from the vote. Amsalem has said that the bill will protect many Israelis from being smeared in the press, and Netanyahu is one of them.
Amsalem said that 30,000 cases are sent to the prosecution each year, which close 26,000 of them, and the legislation prevents leaks that could ruin someone’s reputation, even though he is not being charged with a crime.
“If the attorney-general wants a recommendation, he can get it,” Amsalem argued in the plenum. “The bill is here to protect citizens from the matter of publicity, not just the prime minister.”
The committee meeting and the plenum vote on the bill were repeatedly postponed because of disagreements in the coalition.
Kulanu hesitated about whether to support the bill but did in the end. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon defended his party’s choice, saying it always intended to vote for this bill, as long as it doesn’t apply to ongoing investigations. Kahlon pointed out that in the latest draft, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit can ask for a recommendation, and he trusts Mandelblit’s judgment.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said ahead of the plenum vote that “there’s a limit to how much people can stand here and lie.... You’re kidding that this isn’t a personal law.”
Netanyahu is “petrified that there will be recommendations and the Israeli public will know what they don’t know yet,” Lapid argued. “There are things he doesn’t want the public to know, like why he authorized the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt without telling the Defense Ministry. He doesn’t want you to know. That’s why there’s this law.”
Lapid excused Netanyahu of being “hysterical,” and said that if the law passes, he will petition the High Court against it.
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran said that instead of the “recommendations bill,” it should be nicknamed the “admission bill,” as in “Netanyahu’s admission [that] he’s guilty.”
“Why does he need this if the investigation is nothing? Why does he have to hide recommendations from the public?” she asked.
In addition to Netanyahu, Likud MK Bennie Begin was absent from the vote, after having voiced opposition to the bill’s immediate implementation.
He called for it to go into effect in six months, so the bill would not be targeted at a specific person – meaning, the prime minister.