Coalition whip pushes bill to grant mayors immunity from arrest

Ofir Katz of Likud says municipal leaders need protection similar to that enjoyed by Knesset members to dissuade ‘enemies’ seeking to tarnish reputations

MK Ofir Katz leads a committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Ofir Katz leads a committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coalition whip Ofir Katz submitted a bill Sunday to grant local leaders immunity from arrest, similar to privileges currently enjoyed by Knesset members.

Katz argued the legislation is needed to prevent “exhaustive [legal] processes” that can hurt municipal services and impact “public opinion.”

The bill refers only to arrests, and not the investigation of alleged offenses.

“An arrest that is carried out publicly can significantly harm an elected official. There have been cases in which elected officials in municipalities and regional councils, who were eventually cleared of any guilt, paid a heavy electoral price following the mistaken perception built up in the voting public during the proceedings,” an explanatory text attached to the bill said.

The bill stipulates that arrests could still be carried out in cases where a municipal chief was in the midst of committing an alleged crime that involves the use of force, disturbs the peace, or is treasonous.

Katz said that in carrying out their duties, municipal leaders inevitably “make enemies and opponents” who may seek to deliberately tarnish their names with false claims and rumors. The legislation would seek to prevent such a situation.

Mayors from cities across the country have fallen foul of corruption and bribery laws in recent years.

Among recent cases, in August 2022, Petah Tikva Mayor Rami Greenberg was arrested by police on suspicions of bribery. He was later released to house arrest. Greenberg was again questioned by police in January, who have sought to have him suspended from his duties while police investigate him and several others suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, false registration of corporate documents, money laundering, and tax crimes.

Petah Tikva Mayor Rami Greenberg is filmed apparently receiving a stack of cash in a clip released on August 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

In 2021, the former mayor of the central-Israeli city of Kfar Saba, Yehuda Ben-Hamo, was convicted of using funds raised for the needy for his own personal and political gain.

In that case, the judge found that Ben-Hamo had used some NIS 607,500 ($171,000) worth of gift cards and cash for his own personal needs, as well as giving some to his associates, subordinates, household workers, and neighborhood activists, both for their own use and to distribute to city residents.

In 2022, an oversight committee suspended then-Hadera mayor Zvi Gendelman for six months, after he was indicted on corruption charges.

Gendelman was accused of bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice for illegally advancing the business interests of Sammy Levy, a real estate developer who backed his election campaign.

In a statement provided to Walla news, Katz described the legislation as “important” and intended to prevent situations of “unjust” reputational damage.

Cases often “begin with a big bang, and finish with nothing,” Katz asserted, adding that “the embarrassment and shame remain.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

Most Popular
read more: