Netanyahu and Gantz praise High Court rejection of petition on PM’s eligibility
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Netanyahu and Gantz praise High Court rejection of petition on PM’s eligibility

PM says question of whether he can form coalition in light of graft charges ‘doesn’t need to be deliberated at all’; Blue and White chief: Elections will be court of public opinion

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the High Court of Justice’s rejection of a petition Thursday that sought to block him from assembling a government after the elections vote due to the graft charges against him.

Netanyahu’s centrist rival Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, also backed the court’s decision.

The court said it was “premature” to rule on the matter, as the March 2 vote has yet to take place and the question of whether a Knesset member facing criminal charges could form a government remains theoretical.

While Netanyahu welcomed the High Court’s decision to reject the petition, he said that the matter should not have been addressed by the courts at all and shouldn’t be discussed in the future either.

“It should be clear, we think — I think — that this doesn’t need to be deliberated at all because the choice of the people [for] who will lead the nation is the choice of the people only and not anyone else,” Netanyahu told reporters in Greece, where he is traveling.

Voicing support for the ruling, Gantz vowed to defeat Netanyahu in the elections.

“I respect and accept the correct decision of the High Court of Justice. We will take Netanyahu to the court of public opinion at the polls — and win,” Gantz tweeted.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a press conference in Ramat Gan on January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

His party also issued a statement on the court decision, saying it was correct but not an “alternative to the simple truth.”

“Bibi [Netanyahu] is dragging the State of Israel to elections for a third time for the sake of immunity and is turning the Knesset into a refuge [from prosecution],” Blue and White said.

Likud likewise welcomed the court decision, saying Netanyahu’s political future should be decided at the ballot box.

“The High Court acted correctly,” the party said. “In a democracy only the people decide who will lead the people, and no one else.”

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a corruption watchdog that has unsuccessfully appealed for Netanyahu to be forced to resign, said the court was cowed into throwing out the petition.

“The campaign of intimidation and demonetization achieved its goal. Strong forces succeeded in sowing fear in the hearts of the judges,” it said, apparently referring to Netanyahu and his political allies.

By not taking up the petition, the group said, the High Court “sent an entire country to vote in elections without knowing what the meaning of their vote is.”

Attorney Dafna Holtz-Lachner arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on her petition over whether a lawmaker facing criminal indictment can be tapped to form a coalition, December 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney Dafna Holtz-Lachner, who submitted the petition on behalf of 67 public figures, academics and tech executives, also praised the court decision.

“The court removed any doubt that the matter is justiciable,” Holtz-Lachner told Kan public radio.

At a High Court hearing Tuesday, she claimed that the current law’s leniency toward an indicted prime minister only refers to a serving premier, not an MK seeking a new appointment to the post. Netanyahu has been interim premier in the absence of a Knesset mandate since December 2018, and is in the position of a lawmaker seeking an appointment, not a serving prime minister.

Holtz-Lachner also claimed that the current law’s leniency toward an indicted prime minister only refers to a serving premier, not an MK seeking a new appointment to the post.

Israeli law requires any indicted minister other than the prime minister to resign their post. Under that standard, Holtz-Lachner asked, can an MK in a similarly compromised legal position be appointed prime minister in the first place?

Chief Justice Esther Hayut noted there was no legal ruling barring Netanyahu from running in the elections and also questioned the timing of the petition, asking why it was not filed after the elections.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (C) arrives for a High Court preliminary hearing on whether a lawmaker facing criminal indictment can be tapped to form a coalition, December 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on November 21 announced charges against Netanyahu in a trio of corruption cases. The High Court had asked Mandelblit to provide a legal opinion of his own on the matter, but he responded by saying that he wanted to wait until after the court ruled on whether it will make a decision.

The appeal against Netanyahu’s eligibility for reelection comes as the prime minister has been accusing prosecutors, the media and the judiciary of working together to bring him down with trumped-up corruption charges.

On Wednesday the prime minister announced that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution in the three cases.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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