Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A Likud proposal
to outlaw criminal investigations of sitting prime ministers is unlikely to move forward, as not enough coalition MKs are willing to support it as of Monday
However, coalition chairman David Bitan is using the bill to settle scores against other parties.
The "French bill," based on a French constitutional amendment, states that a criminal investigation of a prime minister cannot be opened unless it is of security-related crimes, violence, sexual violations or drugs, or of a crime that, without an immediate investigation, could cause significant harm to the country’s security or economy. The bill would not apply retroactively, meaning it would not stop already-open investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon decided, after expressing discomfort with the bill in recent days, that he would not force Kulanu MKs to support it, leaving the coalition without enough votes for the bill to pass.
“No faction member will vote against his conscience,” Kahlon vowed. “We will follow the coalition agreement. But when it comes to things that are not in the agreement, every MK can vote according to his conscience.”
Kahlon said his party will continue to protect the rule of law and supremacy of the judiciary.
“The State of Israel is too precious to us to abandon it to all kinds of bills and harm systems that are important for democracy for us and future generations,” he added.
Bayit Yehudi MKs, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also expressed discomfort with the bill in recent days, though the faction did not make a decision about it.
Bitan, however, said he will “go all the way” with the proposed legislation and warned Kulanu MKs that they were trying to bring about an election.
Meanwhile, the coalition chairman has frozen all other bills until he can get the other parties on board with the bill.
For MKs in the Likud, the matter has become larger than one bill. A feeling of resentment has bubbled up among some Likud lawmakers who feel that Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu have too much influence, compared with Netanyahu’s much-larger faction.
“Parties need to understand there are times that they need to give in,” Bitan said.
Both Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay called the French bill a result of Netanyahu’s navel-gazing.
According to Lapid, the coalition is “breaking records of disgustingness and corruption.”
“The country doesn’t interest them, this whole building, this whole Knesset, for them is a place meant to make personal arrangements,” he stated. “To threaten the police, cancel investigations, give money to one another, give each other jobs... The only thing they care about is to quickly pass a law to not allow investigating a prime minister.”
Gabbay lamented “a series of bills and declarations by the coalition that have no connection to our real lives. Everything is about the goal of being reelected. They’re busy with the prime minister and his immunity.”
Earlier Monday, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit came out against the proposal in a speech at Tel Aviv University.
“No one is above the law, not even the prime minister,” Mandelblit stated, adding that if such an investigation stays on hold until the prime minister is out of office, it will be obstructed.
“If the law passed, it will be a real problem of equality under law. If there’s a prime minister who gets a million shekels in cash in an envelope or in his bank account, and in exchange, that prime minister gives a person benefits... we have to investigate it,” Mandelblit said.
State Attorney Shai Nitzan also expressed opposition to the bill in a creative way, in an article for a Bible study website, based on a verse from Proverbs.
“Some say that due to the honor of kings and other leaders (ministers, MKs, rabbis and others), we should not investigate them too much if there is a suspicion against them, in order not to violate the public’s trust in them. And that is a total mistake,” reads the article’s sub-headline.