Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked, from the Jewish Home party, appeared on Monday to cautiously back a proposal by Likud MK David Amsalem earlier in the day for Knesset legislation that would give immunity from certain types of police investigations and criminal prosecution to Israel’s sitting prime minister.
Amsalem’s planned bill was prompted by the latest police investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was interrogated under caution by police on Monday evening over corruption suspicions.
Amsalem’s bill would amend Israel’s Basic Law to prohibit police from investigating an incumbent premier for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. Amsalem said similar laws exist in France.
But even if the proposed legislation were to pass all three Knesset readings and become law, it would not be applicable retroactively, and wouldn’t offer Netanyahu protection from the current police investigation.
Speaking to Radio Darom on Monday evening, Shaked said the proposal “should come with several other elements” to strengthen governability on the part of a sitting prime minister, according to Haaretz.
“This law is called the ‘French Law,'” she said, echoing Amsalem, and adding that “in France, they don’t investigate an incumbent president, only after his term has ended. It’s something that we could consider; it would have to be part of other elements, not just on its own.”
“As a matter of principle, the prime minister should be like everyone else, there should be no difference,” she said, adding gingerly however that “in order to enable [the prime minister] to handle state affairs appropriately, we can consider it.”
France’s president, who has a five-year term limit, cannot be prosecuted for most offenses aside from high treason, though French lawmakers recently moved to ease impeachment rules as a way of allowing criminal prosecutions to move forward.
The legislation as proposed by Amsalem would allow a sitting prime minister, who has no term limit, to continue to serve until they resign or are voted out of office before police could launch open an investigation into suspected wrongdoing. It would not offer protection from security, sex, violence or drug-related offenses.
Netanyahu is being investigated over allegations that he accepted a “string of valuable gifts” from at least two businessmen during his time in office. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in the affair. Police have refused to comment on reports that one of the two businessmen is World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder, who is among the 50 people said to have already testified in the probe.
Amsalem and other sources close to Netanyahu have maintained his innocence, and linked the investigation to efforts to oust the prime minister from power.
Amsalem told Army Radio Monday that media “eagerness” surrounding the latest Netanyahu probe was threatening Israel’s democratic foundations.
“There is a motivation to remove the right-wing from power,” he charged. “We need to take away any motivation other than that pertaining to the investigation itself. There is a basic democratic principle that the people chose someone to lead the country. That is the most important principle and it takes precedence over all others.”
Earlier this year, Amsalem floated another version of his bill that offered the premier immunity for “minor transgressions” that generally hold a sentence of under six months in prison.
However, the proposal was met with widespread criticism, and a statement from the Likud at the time said the legislation “was not coordinated with the prime minister and was made without his knowledge.” The proposed bill never went to the Knesset floor for a vote.