Amid the chaos of the last three days’ filibuster in the Knesset – Chanting Lamentations in the Yemenite tune! Shakespeare recitations! Near-fisticuffs between Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi and Likud lawmaker Oren Hazan! – something got lost. That something is the actual legislation that passed overnight Wednesday, the Police Recommendations Law.
If you’re confused about this law and why it became such a big deal, we (one hopes) have all the answers.
the law say?
The Police Recommendations Law started out as a big deal and ended up as a bit of a nothingburger. But, it’s a new law on the books and it does make a change, even if it’s much smaller than Likud MK David Amsalem intended when he proposed it.
The law states that at the end of an investigation, the police will give the district attorney all of the materials it gathered, and, separately, its written stance as to whether indictments should be handed down or not, along with the evidence to back up that opinion.
If the police investigation took place with an accompanying prosecutor from the State Attorney’s Office – which happens in cases involving elected officials and senior civil servants – then the police will not submit a call for an indictment in writing.
However, the attorney-general or state attorney can ask the police to give its opinion in writing if they consider it to be necessary to make a decision.
A police opinion that a case should be closed may be given in writing without a specific request from the attorney-general or state attorney.
That last stipulation is what turns the law in much ado about nothing. It means that the procedure can, in reality, go on exactly as it did before the law passed.
In addition, leaking a police recommendation or other evidence in a case can carry a prison sentence of up to two years. This does not apply to the person to whom the materials are leaked, such as journalists; rather, the law specifies that the provision covers a person who was authorized to see the materials and who gives it to someone without such authorization. Leaking was already illegal before Wednesday night – the new law increases the penalty.
The law does not apply to investigations opened before it was passed – such as those involving allegations of corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and excludes the Shin Bet security agency.WHAT IS
the law supposed to accomplish?
The answer really depends on whom you ask.
Amsalem points out that the majority of cases opened by the police end up being closed without an indictment. However, there have been many cases – especially those with well-known figures at their center – in which materials and allegations are leaked to the press, and someone’s reputation is damaged, even if in the end he or she is not found to have committed a crime. The law is meant to avoid such a situation.
The original draft of the bill banned the police from submitting any recommendations at all, but when the Attorney-General’s Office explained that would cause a massive backlog, because it would have to essentially retrace every single criminal investigation, Amsalem narrowed the scope to cases with an accompanying state prosecutor. Then, amid a media and opposition furor, Netanyahu asked Amsalem
to leave him out of the bill, so it was further changed to not apply to already-ongoing investigations.WHY DOES
the opposition care so much about this law?
The opposition cares because of Netanyahu. This bill was first tabled after the coalition dropped Amsalem’s “French bill,” which would outlaw criminal investigations of a sitting prime minister, and was seen as a further attempt to shield Netanyahu from the long arm of the law.
The bill will help thousands of Israeli citizens, Amsalem argued, and Netanyahu is just one of them.
When Amsalem narrowed the bill’s scope to include only the highest-profile cases, the opposition seized on the amendment as proof that it’s targeting Netanyahu.
After Netanyahu asked to exclude himself from this narrative, opposition lawmakers didn’t drop the issue. They still said the legislation is part of a pattern of the prime minister and his allies in the Likud trying to weaken legal authorities while he’s under investigation.
Netanyahu didn’t help matters much by giving a speech at a Likud Hanukka event in which he railed against the police and said its recommendations don’t matter, anyway.WHAT WAS
the point of the filibuster?
In short: To let off steam.
There wasn’t some kind of deadline for the Police Recommendations Law to be passed, so the opposition wasn’t trying to outrun a clock. And if there were a deadline, the filibuster wouldn’t have been allowed to happen. This was simply a chance for the opposition to have its say and show voters its giving its all to fight the coalition.
There are no rules, by the way, that say the speeches have to be on the topic of the bill to be voted on. In normal plenum debates, MKs tend to use the opportunity to talk about whatever they feel like, and a 43-hour filibuster was no different. That’s how we got a lecture on Plato and Machiavelli from Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah, and the history of pickles from MK Michal Biran of the same party.
Opposition lawmakers often complain that they aren’t given enough of a voice. In some ways, they’re just whining; they’re certainly given an equal say in the media, and considering the left-wing slant of much of the media, they arguably get a greater say than the coalition.
But from a parliamentary perspective, it’s not easy being the opposition. The coalition blocks the vast majority of its bills. They’re not chairpeople of the prestigious committees. And the coalition can limit them from speaking at length, using the dreaded article 98 of the Knesset’s rules.
Article 98 allows the coalition to “establish the order of discussion,” which means the majority can block the minority from filibustering. This time, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein saw how passionate the opposition was about stopping this bill, and he decided to block the use of article 98.
However, in light of Yesh Atid petitioning the High Court against the law, a petition that Edelstein feels is a violation of the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary, the speaker has threatened not to come to the opposition’s defense next time.
Letting the opposition have its say, at length, cost the legislature an estimated NIS 250,000 in hotel stays for MKs, overtime pay for staff, electricity and other added expenses, according to a Knesset source. But, to put things in perspective, the Knesset Finance Committee approved NIS 6 billion in budgetary transfers while the filibuster was happening.
And democracy may be expensive, but the alternative is far more costly, in other ways.