The ministerial committee on legislation voted unanimously in favor of setting term limits of eight years for Israel’s prime minister on Sunday, in an important step toward passing the bill into law in the month ahead.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who initiated the bill and chairs the committee, defended the legislation Sunday on Twitter. He noted criticism that term limits are rare in a parliamentary democracy and recalled that they were part of Israeli law during the years that Israel elected its prime minister directly (1996-2001).
“Not having term limits for prime minister encourages corruption,” Sa’ar told reporters outside Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
The New Hope leader received approval from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to go ahead with the bill, because it will not be retroactive and therefore would not apply to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who could serve eight more years as prime minister until the bill applied to him.
Another Sa’ar-sponsored bill, which would prevent anyone under a serious indictment – including Netanyahu – from forming a government, has not obtained the support of Bennett, and Sa’ar said there is no deadline to pass it.
Likud MK David Bitan announced that he backs the term limit bill. But a spokesman for Netanyahu denied a statement by Bitan on Army Radio that the former prime minister had no problem with the bill if it did not apply to him.
“Former prime minister Netanyahu opposes all term limits, regardless of whether he is included,” the spokesman said. “Parliamentary democracies do not limit the terms of prime ministers. They enable the public to vote in free elections for who will continue to lead them each time.”
The Likud cited long-serving leaders Angela Merkel of Germany and Pierre Trudeau of Canada.
“No one questioned whether Germany or Canada are proper democracies,” the Netanyahu spokesman said. “What is anti-democratic is the leader of a party that does not cross the threshold to limit the public’s right to vote," a reference to New Hope.
Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman said Sa’ar should instead have taken action against former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who Rothman said did significant damage to Israeli democracy during his 30 years as a judge.