Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that a controversial bill forbidding police from issuing recommendations for indictment in corruption investigations against public figures was “appropriate and necessary,” but that in order to avoid the appearance that it was tailored to protect him from public fallout in his own corruption probes, it would be amended so that it will not apply to him.
Netanyahu’s statement appeared to be an attempt to rescue the flailing measure, which has been at the center of a political maelstrom in recent weeks, with critics charging it is designed to protect Netanyahu from public fallout in two corruption investigations against him.
Multiple Knesset sources said Sunday that the bill is likely to be delayed for at least a week after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised objections.
“The recommendations law is a good law. It protects human dignity,” Netanyahu insisted in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon, as the bill’s planned final vote on Monday looked set to be delayed.
The bill “clarifies the distinction in a democracy between the role of the police and the role of the legal echelons,” Netanyahu argued. “Legal officials are the only ones who are authorized to decide whether to indict someone. This law would prevent publicizing the police’s recommendations, something that happens regularly and places a cloud of suspicion on innocent people.”
Yet the bill has “been turned into a political bludgeon against the elected government,” he went on. “In order to ensure that the debate is substantive, and won’t be subverted for political propaganda, I’ve asked [the bill’s author] MK [David] Amsalem to ensure that its wording will not apply to the investigation underway into my affairs.”
In any case, he said, in pointed criticism of police investigators, no law forbidding the publication of police recommendations would prevent their leaking. “It’s clear to everyone that the police’s [final] recommendations in my case won’t matter. They seem to have been written at the very start of the investigation, were leaked throughout, and never changed despite clear evidence presented again and again that showed that nothing happened.”
The bill has faced multiple obstacles.
The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee met Sunday for a marathon session to consider a spate of opposition objections to the latest draft of the bill, the most significant being Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari’s amendment delaying the bill’s implementation for three months in order to give police time to conclude their investigations of Netanyahu without the appearance that the bill was meant to hide their findings from the public.
The bill can, in principle, be delayed indefinitely by the filing of hundreds of objections by opposition lawmakers. The fact that the first such objection came from Ben-Ari, an MK who is part of the coalition, suggests it may face unexpected opposition even from within the government.
The objections filibuster process can only be stopped by the Knesset speaker and Knesset House Committee imposing time limits on the debates, a step taken only when there is broad agreement on a bill’s urgency. It is thought unlikely that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein could impose such limits for the Monday vote.
The legislative maneuvering came after a large anti-corruption rally in tel Aviv Saturday night calling on Netanyahu to resign. It was one of the largest demonstrations yet against Netanyahu’s lengthy rule.
“I think the time has come to change the government. The government is corrupt. We’re sick of the corrupt,” said protester Avi Elmozlinu.
Organizers are hoping that the grassroots movement picks up steam and becomes a regular Saturday night ritual that eventually forces Netanyahu from power.
The bill faced another hurdle Sunday as one of its key backers, coalition whip MK David Bitan, is now a key suspect in a massive corruption and organized crime investigation in the Rishon Lezion municipality, a year-long probe that became public on Sunday with a wave of arrests of city officials.
While the Knesset’s legal adviser notified lawmakers that all may vote their conscience on the bill, without fear of conflict-of-interest concerns, the sense among lawmakers that the bill pushed so assiduously by Bitan will end up protecting him has shored up the worries of those who already had qualms about the measure.
Kulanu’s chief, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, reiterated Sunday that he would not enforce faction discipline on the bill, and his party’s lawmakers may vote as they please.
There is division even in Likud’s ranks. At a meeting of Likud ministers Sunday morning, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin urged party leaders to push off the final vote on the bill by a week, saying the delay would allow additional time to debate opposition objections.
Despite its troubles, the bill was taken up Sunday by the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, which is chaired by the bill’s author Amsalem, for a marathon session that Amsalem said was intended to consider all opposition objections ahead of the Monday vote.
Amsalem met with Bitan and other coalition leaders on Sunday afternoon, and is expected to announce a decision to delay the vote on the controversial bill by Sunday evening.
AP contributed to this report.