Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Sunday that the investigations into his alleged corruption be left out of the controversial police investigations bill. The final vote on the legislation, originally scheduled for Monday, was postponed.
“The recommendations bill is a good bill. It protects human dignity,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. “Unfortunately, the discussion of the recommendations bill turned into a political battering ram against the elected government that brings unprecedented achievements in security, economics, society and the diplomatic arena. So that the discussion of the bill will be to the point and not taken advantage of for political propaganda, I asked... to make sure the bill will be worded so that it doesn’t apply to the investigation of my matters.”
The latest draft of the police recommendations bill bars the police from offering recommendations to the attorney-general as to whether to indict or not at the end of the highest-profile investigations. However, the attorney-general may ask for them in investigations that have already begun. The bill would also make those leaking contents of a police investigation liable for a prison sentence of up to a year.
According to Netanyahu, the bill “regulates the clear separation in a democracy between the job of the police and the job of the legal authorities. According to law, the legal authorities are the only body authorized to decide whether to indict someone. The bill is meant to prevent the publication of police recommendations, which leave a cloud over innocent people, something that happens very often.”
The bill’s opponents saw it as a way to protect Netanyahu from indictment.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
Netanyahu, however, argued that the police “decided at the beginning of the investigation” whether to investigate him or not, “leaked [information] throughout it and didn’t change despite the clear facts presented again and again, which proves there was nothing.”
The change that Knesset Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) is expected to make is to postpone its implementation by several months.
Amsalem said he will work with the panel’s legal advisers to leave Netanyahu out of the bill and canceled Monday morning’s planned committee vote, a prerequisite for the final plenum vote that was planned for Monday evening.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said Saturday night’s rally in Tel Aviv
, hundreds of objections submitted by the coalition and “my direct call to [Finance Minister Moshe] Kahlon and [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett led to a change.”
“It should be clear – we will oppose this corrupt bill even if it does not apply to Netanyahu,” Gabbay said. “This is a bill for the corrupt, and against investigators.”
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid said Netanyahu was “admitting his guilt.”
“The bill was personal from the first minute and was born in sin,” Lapid stated. “Even someone who says that [a prime minister] isn’t thrown out over cigars knows that corruption of a ruler who is on his chair for too much time is a reason to throw him out, and then some.”
Netanyahu’s statement came as the coalition struggled to get a majority to support the bill, with some in the Likud calling to postpone Monday’s vote.
Police announced an investigation against coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), with the Lahav 433 unit questioning him on Sunday in relation to a covert operation uncovering connections between criminal elements and officials in the central city of Rishon Lezion, where he was deputy mayor before entering the Knesset.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon responded to a letter from Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran asking that he examine whether Bitan could participate in the legislative process – both by voting and whipping coalition votes – in light of a possible conflict of interest. Last week, Yinon said Netanyahu and Labor and Welfare Minister Israel Katz could not vote on the bill because of ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption by them.
Yinon clarified that Bitan and Joint List MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Goumha Azbarga, from Balad, who are under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations, may not participate in Knesset committee votes pertaining to the bill, and if they want to participate in the plenum vote they must first declare their conflict of interest.
In addition to losing his own chance to vote, Bitan also struggled getting commitments from Kulanu MKs. Although most of Kulanu voted in favor of the bill in a first reading last week, with MK Rachel Azaria absenting herself from the vote, two more lawmakers have joined her in opposing it, and the party has asked for its implementation to be delayed by several months so that it won’t apply to Netanyahu.
Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari tweeted: “After thinking for a long time, I thank my party leader Moshe Kahlon for the freedom of parliamentary action... The time has come to take care of when the bill goes into effect, so that it doesn’t even look like a personal law... That is my condition for supporting the bill.”
Likud MK Bennie Begin skipped the vote last week, as did Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan because he is the minister responsible for police.
Amsalem said the timing of Bitan’s investigation, which disqualified his chance to vote on the day before the final vote, was suspicious. He called it “a very serious thing,” and posited that “someone is trying to torpedo the legislation.”
“There is a great army here, including all the political and media fronts, working to bring Netanyahu down,” Amsalem argued at the opening of a committee meeting on the bill. “The police has to investigate every complaint that reaches it, but what would have happened if they would have investigated Bitan in two days.”
Amsalem was the only coalition MK attending the final committee meeting on the bill when it started Sunday, reflecting widening unease among lawmakers.
The opposition, meanwhile, showed up in full force in an attempt to block the bill, submitting hundreds of objections and proposed changes that would have to be voted on, and would take hours to get through.
Likud MK Yehudah Glick tweeted: “Promoting the recommendations bill at this time looks bad. Summoning MK Bitan for questioning in an investigation at this time looks bad. The way either of these things looks doesn’t cancel out the other and doesn’t justify the other.”
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