Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday said that his centrist party would act as a “defense shield” for Israel’s democracy and work to prevent any efforts to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from criminal charges.
In his first speech to the Knesset, Ashkenazi vowed Blue and White would not sit idly in opposition and actively work to stymie a reported legislative proposal that critics say would sharply undermine Israeli democracy’s system of checks and balances.
“We pledge that when you try to trample the principles of democracy, divide and split [Israeli society], we will be a defense shield like you’ve never seen before,” said Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff.
“Blue and White, together with the opposition, is committed to ensuring Prime Minister Netanyahu does not succeed in passing his package of anti-democratic laws and creating for himself refuge” from prosecution, he added.
Ashkenazi was referring to a report Monday in the Haaretz daily that Netanyahu plans to promote a bill that would allow the government to overrule the High Court of Justice on administrative matters.
If passed, the bill could safeguard the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution by permitting the annulment of any judicial decision that could rescind it.
The proposed clause would effectively allow the Knesset to ignore the court’s administrative rulings, and also permit it to resubmit laws that have been struck down by the court in the past, Haaretz reported. It would thus prevent the court from overruling both Knesset legislation and government decisions, and elevate the latter above those of the judiciary.
“I turn from here also to members of the coalition: Don’t allow the coalition agreements to contain immunity for criminal suspects. I believe like you that no one is above the law… even if he is prime minister,” Ashkenazi said.
“History will judge all of us and also you for our conduct and choices at this time,” he added.
Hours earlier, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Esther Hayut, made a speech in Nuremberg, Germany, that expressed implied criticism of Netanyahu’s planned judicial reforms and invoked the Nazi takeover of Germany in the 1930s.
Speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength in the wake of the April 9 election to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister, or seek to use existing immunity provisions for the same purpose.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he will charge Netanyahu pending a hearing with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a series of graft cases that involve the premier’s ties to wealthy benefactors and alleged efforts to sway media coverage. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
Ashkenazi’s speech at the Knesset echoed that given Monday by Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White.
“I come today to fight against the new threat we face: a threat to the integrity of the democratic system and the country’s judicial and law-enforcement institutions,” Gantz said.
He accused Netanyahu of seeking to bury his criminal cases through “political deals,” proving that “the rule of law does not at all interest the head of the current government and that which is taking shape.”
Blue and White’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, told a press conference earlier Monday that “people have to take to the streets before our democracy is destroyed.”
Lapid mocked the prime minister’s Likud party, saying it has “turned into a ‘get out of jail’ party for Netanyahu,” and criticized the latest efforts as an attempt to “turn the State of Israel into Turkey,” alluding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s legal changes that have granted him the option to remain leader for decades.
Lapid also said that based on the proposal, as well as Netanyahu’s efforts to delay a pre-indictment hearing against him in the corruption cases, Mandelblit should file charges immediately.