High Court to NGO: Don't jump the gun on firing Netanyahu

Netanyahu may give up other ministries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right on time at the opening of the 22nd Knesset on October 3 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right on time at the opening of the 22nd Knesset on October 3
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The High Court of Justice told an NGO Sunday evening that it had jumped the gun in asking the court to fire Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following Thursday’s decision by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict him for corruption.
The ruling by justices Yosef Elron, Menachem Mazuz and George Kara does not mean that Netanyahu is out of the woods as much as it means that the NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, will need to check in with Mandelblit about what actions he may take regarding Netanyahu before the petition can proceed.
Further, the movement will need to double-check with Netanyahu about whether reports are accurate that he will relinquish side ministries he currently holds. On that issue, there were contrary reports that Mandelblit thought Netanyahu would give up these posts, while others said he would try to hold on to them.
Earlier Thursday, the NGO became the first to file such a petition, with the Labor Party and others vowing to do the same in the near future.
Although the dry law of Knesset statutes only requires a prime minister to resign if convicted and after all appeals have been exhausted, it has been expected that various groups would seek to force his resignation based on a decades-old precedent requiring ministers to resign upon indictment.
In the petition, the movement said: “Woe to us if a prime minister under indictment drags the entire State of Israel down with him into the courtroom.”
In parallel to the High Court petition, several groups are trying to get Mandelblit and the state prosecution to intervene even before the High Court gets involved – hoping that the attorney-general will ask or instruct Netanyahu to resign or tell the prime minister that he is unfit to run for reelection.
This seems to be the focus of the High Court’s ruling – that no petition should be filed before Mandelblit has published his opinion on the issue.
The decision was also significant because the panel was made up of two liberal leaning justices, Mazuz and Kara – so no one can say it was the result of conservative appointees.
Moreover, Mazuz previously served as attorney-general, so he would not be expected to give Netanyahu more slack than the minimum required by law.
Besides the differing interpretations about whether a prime minister needs to resign if indicted, the law does not specifically address whether a serving prime minister can run for reelection once under indictment.
Another option would be for Mandelblit or the High Court to encourage or direct Netanyahu to declare himself temporarily incapacitated until the public corruption case is resolved.
The attorney-general himself is undecided at this point about what to do, but he and his top aides are consulting on the issue.
In the past, The Jerusalem Post has received indications that Mandelblit believed Netanyahu would end up having to resign if indicted specifically for bribery, while he might not have had to resign if indicted for only fraud and breach of public trust.
Ultimately, Mandelblit’s charges against Netanyahu included a bribery charge.
In public statements, Mandelblit has said that all of these legal issues are unsettled – meaning there are multiple interpretations one could make – and that he would only form a concrete view if and when an indictment is issued.
At the same time, he issued a final indictment months ago against Haim Katz, but has not forced him to resign from the Knesset or begun his trial. Rather, he has only forced him to resign as a minister.
With the Knesset out of session for an extended period, there is speculation that Netanyahu and Katz could delay their trials until after a new Knesset reconvenes, since the immunity of Knesset members is usually removed by a Knesset committee.
However, there are interpretations that under the current circumstances, the immunity could be waived in various ad-hoc processes.
There is also speculation that even if Mandelblit personally believes that Netanyahu should resign, he will not want to be the official who forces him out early, preferring to leave the decision to the courts or to the political process.
Mandelblit’s decision could come within days so as to help the country’s political parties form a government within the current 21-day period, or it could be indefinitely delayed.
If Mandelblit delays, he could call the questions hypothetical and wait until a concrete scenario, such as Netanyahu having 61 signatures or running in a third round of elections. Some even suggested he would try to push the question of whether Netanyahu can form a government off to President Reuven Rivlin.
If Netanyahu resigns his additional ministries, that would open up the top positions in the Health, Social Welfare and Diaspora ministries, as well as the position of Acting Agricultural Minister.
The head of the UTC Council of Torah Sages has already ruled that Ya’acov Litzman can become the new Health Minister in the current circumstances, though usually United Torah Judaism officials refuse anything but being deputy minister as part of their ideology of objecting to Israel not being a theocracy.