The powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday advanced a controversial bill that would ban police, upon wrapping up an investigation, from informing prosecutors whether there are grounds for indictment.
The bill is widely seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the public fallout should police find sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.
The first of three plenum votes on the bill is scheduled for Monday, according to Channel 10 news. If the vote in the cabinet committee is any indication, the bill may have enough support to pass into law during the current session, albeit in a diluted form due to widespread opposition in the Knesset.
The bill has been a source of contention even within Netanyahu’s own Likud party. Last week, Likud MK Benny Begin was kicked off the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee after expressing opposition to the bill.
Begin, the son of the late prime minister Menachem Begin, said he believed the proposed legislation stemmed from “good intentions,” namely to avoid tarnishing the reputations of Israelis investigated by police who are ultimately never indicted or deemed innocent after a trial, but must still suffer the public embarrassment and fallout of a police recommendation against them. But Begin told the committee last Wednesday that the bill must only apply to future cases, and not to the ongoing graft investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs, so as not to appear to be an attempt to use the legislature to save a premier from suspicions of corruption.
House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) later on Wednesday informed the plenum that Begin had been replaced on the panel by fellow Likud MK David Bitan. Begin said his ouster was against his will.
Under current norms, police do not explicitly recommend indictments but issue a summary outlining whether there is an evidentiary basis for charges.
The bill would jail investigators who issue recommendations for indictment as well as police officials who leak information from ongoing investigations to the press. An earlier clause, which would have jailed journalists for publishing that information, has been excised.
The bill’s current draft was written by the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, which is headed by bill sponsor MK David Amsalem (Likud), who is working to fast-track the legislation.
The coalition remains divided over whether the bill can apply to existing cases, with the Kulanu party joining Begin in opposing its retroactive application to existing investigations.