The Incapacitation Law, which prevents the attorney-general from pronouncing a sitting prime minister as unfit for office, passed early Thursday morning with 61 MKs voting in favor and 47 against, paving the way for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to become more openly involved in the government’s proposed changes to the judicial system.
The law, officially an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, states that a sitting prime minister may only be removed from their position if they are physically or mentally incapable of serving in the position. This must be approved by at least 75% of the government ministers, and if the prime minister still refuses to step down, by at least 75% of Knesset members.
The coalition initiated the bill after the High Court of Justice last month did not reject out of hand a petition to prevent Attorney-General Gali Baharv-Miara being able to declare Netanyahu as unfit to serve in his role due to the violation of a conflict-of-interests agreement that blocks him from engaging in anything that can influence his ongoing corruption trial, including the government’s proposed judicial reforms.
Netanyahu is still subject to the agreement, but now that the law has passed, the attorney-general does not have an effective way to enforce it, and therefore Netanyahu may begin to increase his open involvement in the reforms.
The law’s ratification, which kept Knesset members in the plenum in their seats overnight, attracted widespread criticism from various opposition party leaders.
"Like thieves in the night, the coalition has now passed an obscene and corrupt personal law," wrote opposition leader Yair Lapid on Twitter on Thursday. "The citizens of Israel [should know], just before the holidays, while the cost of living is skyrocketing, [that] Netanyahu once again only cares about himself."
כמו גנבים בלילה, העבירה עכשיו הקואליציה חוק פרסונלי מגונה ומושחת נגד שמועה מופרכת על נבצרות. ידעו אזרחי ישראל - רגע לפני החגים, בזמן שיוקר המחייה מזנק, שוב נתניהו דואג רק לעצמו. pic.twitter.com/4bQxUIdcdx— יאיר לפיד - Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) March 23, 2023
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz tweeted on Thursday: "The Impeachment Law has passed - a personal law that is all about strengthening Netanyahu's rule...There is no softening, no stopping, and there are no restraints. I call on everyone to come out and demonstrate today against the judicial reform that is [continuing to] progress and endangers us."
חוק הנבצרות עבר - חוק פרסונלי שכולו ביצור שלטון נתניהו מול תסריט דמיוני. אין ריכוך, אין עצירה, ואין מעצורים. קורא לכולם לצאת ולהפגין היום מול ההפיכה המשטרית שמתקדמת ומסכנת אותנו.— בני גנץ - Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) March 23, 2023
Appeals to the High Court of Justice
Avigdor Liberman, chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, said in a statement that his party would be petitioning the High Court to strike the law down.
"We will not allow the State of Israel to become a monarchy of the Netanyahu family," he wrote on Twitter.
סיעת ישראל ביתנו תגיש עתירה לבית המשפט העליון לפסול את חוק הנבצרות. לא נאפשר למדינת ישראל להפוך למונרכיה של משפחת נתניהו.— אביגדור ליברמן (@AvigdorLiberman) March 23, 2023
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli called the law “shameful and disgraceful” in a tweet. She went on to state that the coalition is “sacrificing the State of Israel in order to establish themselves under a corrupt government.”
הקואליציה העבירה עכשיו את חוק הנבצרות. חוק מביש ומחפיר שכל מטרתו למנוע את הוצאת נתניהו לנבצרות. זה כל מה שעושה הקואליציה והממשלה הזאת, בחוקים הפרסונליים ובהפיכה המשטרית. מקריבה את מדינת ישראל בשביל לסדר את עצמם בשלטון מושחת.זאת מלחמת העצמאות השניה שלנו ואנחנו חייבות לנצח בה.— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) March 23, 2023
The bill barely passed the requisite 61 MK majority mark, after Likud MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan were notably absent in protest at the removal of a bill proposal by Amsalem from the plenum agenda earlier on Wednesday.
The Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court against the law hours after it passed, claiming that the government had set impossible conditions for the removal of a prime minister.
The coalition will continue advancing the Deri Law next week, with voting in the special committee formed expected to begin Sunday. The votes are to approve the bill to advance to a second and third reading.
The law bars the High Court from intervening in the appointment of ministers. Its purpose is to enable Netanyahu to reinstate Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri as health and interior minister after the High Court ruled last month that his appointment was “unreasonable in the extreme.”