AG on bill that would bar Netanyahu from becoming PM: It’s not personal

Avichai Mandelblit appears to give legal backing to proposal to ban any lawmaker charged with a serious crime from forming a government

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday appeared to give a kosher stamp to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s bill seeking to bar any lawmaker charged with a serious crime from becoming prime minister, which would prevent former premier Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power.

Mandeblit said the proposal was not aimed at any specific lawmaker, as Netanyahu and his supporters have charged.

“The amendment isn’t personal, it is general and forward-looking, while including qualifications and oversight mechanisms,” Mandelblit said during an event honoring late Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar.

“Additionally, this amendment doesn’t create a precedent out of nowhere. It goes along the path set by [previous] legislation and Supreme Court rulings,” he added.

Mandelblit was referring to a 1990s ruling that said criminal defendants cannot become ministers. The ruling did not apply to the premiership, allowing Netanyahu to remain prime minister after he was formally indicted by the attorney general last January.

“The suggested law aims to apply the current legal situation regarding the eligibility of other elected officials also to the eligibility of the prime minister,” Mandelblit said. “It ensures statesmanship will prevail over any personal interest.”

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on October 21, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Sa’ar also spoke at the conference, defending the bill and saying he was unfazed by criticism over the proposed law.

“My law is at an important crossroads. Avoiding its legislation could return Israel to very dangerous places that may crush our fundamental regime foundations,” Sa’ar said.

“I’m not deterred by the unbridled attacks and I intend to continue fulfilling my role for the benefit of the country, as I see it,” he added.

Sa’ar has also denied the bill, the text of which he released Tuesday, was personally linked to Netanyahu, whose Likud party he left last year to form the breakaway New Hope faction.

Still, the proposal is widely seen as an attempt to block Netanyahu — who is in the middle of an ongoing corruption trial in three cases — from returning to office.

“Gideon Sa’ar’s Iranian law is meant to deprive millions of right-wing voters of their right to vote in favor of the candidate they want for prime minister by a huge majority,” Likud said Thursday in response to Mandelblit’s comments.

Likud also claimed the bill “was not only personal but also anti-democratic and unprecedented in the democracies of the world.”

The proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws would block any Knesset member indicted for a crime that includes a minimum sentence of three years and moral turpitude from being tasked by the president with forming a government.

Such an MK could also not be included in a vote of confidence in a new government or become alternate prime minister. The proposed law, if approved, would take effect after the next elections when a new Knesset is sworn in.

Sa’ar said Wednesday that his publication of the draft bill this week was coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has not publicly weighed in on the controversial legislation.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar at the Knesset, on July 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill has caused tensions inside the governing coalition as well as within Bennett’s Yamina party, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked coming out publicly in opposition to the bill.

Neither the text of the bill nor the accompanying statement from the Justice Ministry on Tuesday named Netanyahu, who would be banned from forming a government if the proposal is passed into law.

Sa’ar is not expected to begin advancing the bill before the state budget is passed by its deadline of November 14. If the budget is not passed by then, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and new elections will be called. The coalition has been working to quell disagreements ahead of the vote in order to keep the government intact.

Earlier this month, Sa’ar also released a legislative memo for a bill that would limit premiers from serving more than eight years in total, though it would not apply retroactively and therefore not prevent Netanyahu from again becoming prime minister.

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