In the latest drama to unfold between the government and the justice system, the heads of the coalition sent a scathing letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Monday over reports she was considering ordering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a leave of absence, with party heads warning her that such a move would be tantamount to a coup.
Shortly after the letter was sent, Baharav-Miara denied Friday’s reports that she had discussed the prospect. Media outlets had claimed the attorney general was weighing the issue due to the Netanyahu’s government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary. They claimed Baharav-Miara viewed this as a potential breach of conflict of interest by the premier, as he cannot be involved in matters that might impact his ongoing criminal trial for corruption.
The coalition’s Monday letter said: “Recently, several news items were published in the media according to which you are holding discussions regarding the possibility of compelling the prime minister of Israel to ‘take a leave of absence.’ To our astonishment, you have not denied these reports until now.”
“An attempt to declare or announce such a move for an incumbent leader is a clearly illegal attempt to depose and overthrow an elected and legal government, without an iota of justification by the law,” the letter warned.
The coalition heads added that such a decision would mean “an annulment of the elections at the polls, an annulment of the democratic regime and an illegal usurpation of the sovereignty of the people” and would not be accepted by the voters or the government.
The letter was signed by the heads of all the coalition parties, with the exception of Netanyahu. Justice Minister Yariv Levin signed for Likud.
Baharav-Miara denied the reports in a simple statement in response to the letter.
“Contrary to media claims, I have not held discussions relating to the leave of absence for the prime minister,” she said.
Kan news reported Friday that Baharav-Miara and her aides were closely studying a 2021 decision by Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who ruled that the attorney general alone had the authority to make such a call. Channel 12 news went further, reporting that Baharav-Miara was close to making the unprecedented decision.
Neither network cited a source in their reports, which came days after Baharav-Miara notified Netanyahu that he remains bound by conflict of interest rules, first drawn up in late 2020 by then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, barring him from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments, or becoming involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial.
Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases on charges of fraud and breach of trust, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media, and left-wing rivals.
Netanyahu’s new government is in the midst of pushing contentious legislation that will weaken Israel’s judiciary. The overhaul proposed by Levin would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.