Amid Netanyahu probes, MKs butt heads over immunity bill for Israeli premiers

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit cautions against what has been dubbed the "French bill," warning that it would turn the prime minister's post into a sanctuary for the corrupt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Knesset Monday. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Knesset Monday.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit again warned against passing legislation to outlaw investigations of sitting prime ministers, speaking in an address to a conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday, even though the bill is frozen due to disagreements within the coalition.
“The job of prime minister, the most important job in the country, will turn into a sanctuary city for criminals,” Mandelblit said at a parley of government legal advisers held by the Kohelet Forum think tank. “And truth be told, the fact that it has to be explained why this is unacceptable, is in of itself unacceptable.”
Mandelblit was referring to Likud MK David Amsalem’s so-called “French bill,” based on a French constitutional provision that does not allow law enforcement to open an investigation of a sitting prime minister, with the exception of certain crimes, including those that endanger national security. A prime minister’s term would not count toward the statute of limitations on the crime.
In addition, the law would not apply retroactively, and would not apply to the current investigations into allegations of corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
Amsalem and coalition chairman David Bitan have repeatedly said Netanyahu is not pushing them to pass the law.
In recent days, Kulanu and Bayit Yehudi MKs and ministers expressed opposition to the bill for a variety of reasons. Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon gave the party’s 10 lawmakers freedom to vote according to their conscience on the matter, which meant there would likely not be enough votes for the bill to pass. Bayit Yehudi (eight MKs) has yet to make an official decision.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that he still had not formed an opinion on the proposal: “The bill has pros and cons. I understand the need for an elected official to be free of legal harassment... Half the people in our faction oppose the bill because of the personal connection to the prime minister. Even if the bill is worthy, it shouldn’t be brought up while investigations are ongoing.”
Bitan, meanwhile, has said he will go “all the way” with the bill. He has turned it into a symbol of what he feels is an imbalance in the influence Kulanu and Bayit Yehudi – whose factions are significantly smaller than the Likud’s 30 legislators – have on government policy. He and Amsalem have both said coalition partners need to compromise. Meanwhile, Bitan is holding all other coalition legislation hostage until there is progress on this bill.
Although it does not appear progress will be made on it, the attorney-general cautioned against allowing the bill to become law, for the second day in a row.
Mandelblit described the proposed law by saying, “Theoretically, if there is clear evidence that a serving prime minister paid a bribe to another person before he was an elected, or received a bribe from another person while prime minister, an investigation against him will not be opened during his term.
“This causes significant harm to the rule of law and the concept of equality before the law and the public’s trust. The existing legal situation in Israel reflects a delicate balance between the different interests relating to the investigation of elected officials, including the prime minister. According to parliamentary immunity, an investigation of an MK, including of the prime minister, cannot be about an action done in the framework of doing his job as an MK.
In addition, opening an investigation against the prime minister depends on the personal approval of the most senior factor in law enforcement, the attorney-general, as does the decision to indict,” Mandelblit explained.
The attorney-general said that every decision he makes is weighed carefully and responsibly, taking into consideration the seriousness of the suspicions and the public interest.
“The aforementioned bill, however, is lacking all balance. Its harm to the rule of law and public trust is difficult and unequivocal,” he said.
Mandelblit also referred to the weekly demonstrations outside his home calling for him to indict Netanyahu.
“I want to make clear now to those who are doubting the judgment and integrity of law enforcement: We will not allow any foreign consideration or unrelated voices to influence us,” he said. “Law enforcement in Israel is independent and is faithful to the rule of law and the public interest.”
Construction Minister and Kulanu party member Yoav Gallant verbally attacked the judicial system on Tuesday, at a meeting of the Kohelet Forum in Jerusalem, NRG reported.
He spoke out against the Supreme Court and said it was exceeding its authority. “There’s an agreement that the Israeli courts have broken all normal boundaries of judicial activism, and populism has entered the courts,” he said.
“The government has been abandoned in a legal sense,” he said, adding that the court “isn’t able to serve the collective good of its citizens.”
There has been “extreme activism in the courthouse,” and “the attorney- general feels free to interpret things however he likes,” Gallant added.
Attorneys-general have usurped the power of the electorate, the citizens who voted for “representation in the Knesset,” he said.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.