Attorney general calls PM immunity bill ‘absurd, wrong’
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'We have never been that kind of country, never want to be'

Attorney general calls PM immunity bill ‘absurd, wrong’

Avichai Mandelblit laments 'lack of understanding' regarding Likud-backed bill designed to protect sitting premiers from criminal prosecution

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday harshly criticized a controversial bill that would grant serving prime ministers immunity from criminal prosecution as “absurd,” “wrong and inappropriate.”

At a Justice Ministry conference held at Tel Aviv University, Mandelblit raised concerns that such a law could significantly obstruct police investigations into a prime minister or other top officials.

“There is a real problem and lack of understanding here,” Mandleblit said according to the Haaretz daily. “In principal, it would not ensure equality under the law.”

“We have never been that kind of country and we don’t ever want to be one. Therefore, I am confident this matter will be removed from the agenda,” he said.

Amid two ongoing criminal investigations into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would prohibit police from probing a serving premier for fraud, bribery or breach of trust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

In its current form, the bill would likely not help Netanyahu in those instances as it specifies it would not apply to ongoing investigations, but it would prevent him being made a suspect in further criminal cases.

Some MKs have also raised fears that the bill may later be amended to apply retroactively to save Netanyahu from prosecution.

On Sunday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) postponed a vote on the bill, proposed by Likud MK David Amsalem, in the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation. In response, coalition chair MK David Bitan, a staunch Netanyahu ally, reportedly threatened to freeze all government legislation until the bill is passed by committee.

Mandelblit joined State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan in a rare public criticism of legislative efforts, who earlier on Monday said that probing the actions of public officials was an “essential tenet” of democracy.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaking at a Ministry of Justice conference in Tel Aviv, December 21, 2016.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Writing as part of the “929 Project” (Hebrew), which daily publishes an exposition on a Bible chapter penned by leading religious and public figures, Nitzan, without directly mentioning the bill, said that efforts to limit investigations of political leaders will end in the “erosion of public trust,” both in those leaders and in the rule of law.

Giving a prime minister criminal immunity would “severely damage” the principle of equality before the law, “which is an essential tenet of our system,” Nitzan added.

In an attempt to quash claims that the bill would put the prime minister above the law, Amsalem added a clause to the bill late last week that would place term limits on the prime minister.

According to the language in that amendment, a prime minister who has served eight consecutive years in office would not be allowed to form a new government. The clause, however, would allow prime ministers to form a new government — which could potentially last nearly five years — in their eighth year in office, and makes no mention of preventing consecutive terms. And like the limits on police investigations, the term limits would not apply to the current prime minister.

Earlier this month, it was reported that police were deepening their investigations into the actions of the prime minister and that he will be summoned soon for questioning in the two investigations against him, cases 1000 and 2000.

Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister denies any wrongdoing in either case.

Investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption by several associates of the prime minister in the sale of German submarines to Israel, the report said. Netanyahu is not a suspect in the submarines case.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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