Drowsy Knesset kicks off 45-hour police bill filibuster

Drowsy Knesset kicks off 45-hour police bill filibuster

Opposition lawmakers take turns before near-empty plenum in bid to delay vote on controversial legislation; Amsalem hits back at Lapid

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

MK David Amsalem during a 4 a.m. debate on his police bill (Screen capture: Knesset Channel)
MK David Amsalem during a 4 a.m. debate on his police bill (Screen capture: Knesset Channel)

The Knesset kicked off what was expected to be a several day marathon session in the early hours of Tuesday, with the opposition attempting to filibuster ahead of a vote on a controversial bill handcuffing cops’ ability to recommend criminal charges.

Starting shortly after 3 a.m, opposition lawmakers took turns speaking before a near-empty plenum in a bid to delay a final vote on the so-called police recommendations bill, which has been derided as an attempt to protect corrupt officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Knesset website, 23 lawmakers out of 120 were present for the debate at 4:30 a.m.

The debate could last as long as three days, Hadashot news reported.

In anticipation of the days-long plenary session, the parliament’s Tuesday morning committee meetings were canceled, as opposition lawmakers vowed to obstruct the passage of the law for as long as possible.

Earlier in the day, opposition leaders had railed against the recommendations bill, which would prevent police from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for indictment of public officials, upon concluding their investigations and handing over their cases to prosecutors.

However, the bill by Likud MK David Amsalem also states that the attorney general, state prosecution, or other prosecutors may seek police input on the evidence, should it be deemed necessary.

The proposed law will not apply to open cases, including ongoing investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former coalition chairman David Bitan.

The session began with Amsalem criticizing Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid as “the most corrupt” for taking too many trips abroad.

“It’s nice to go from capital to capital, but that’s not the point,” he said.

Amsalem, looking sleepy at times, stuck around as opposition figures pilloried his bill and alleged government corruption.

At his weekly faction meeting Monday, Lapid branded the bill “an abomination.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a meeting in the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It is an abomination because it takes Israel democracy and bends to the needs of one person,” he said, apparently referring to Netanyahu. He added that the bill had turned the Knesset into an “embarrassing circus of corruption.”

“They’re good at being corrupt,” Lapid said of the coalition, wryly praising what he described as the government’s uncharacteristic “efficiency” in passing the legislation.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay on Monday called it “a law that is entirely against the public and in favor of criminal organizations and corrupt public officials.”

His Zionist Union faction, an amalgam of Labor and Hatnua, was crowdsourcing its opposition, putting out an open call to the public to submit their objections to the police bill to be read in the plenum by the faction’s lawmakers.

“Forty-five hours of debate will soon begin. You’re welcome to send message,” tweeted Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran.

The final votes on the bill come as police gear up to issue recommendations on Netanyahu’s two corruption cases.

The prime minister is suspected of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and of cutting an alleged quid-pro-quo with a newspaper publisher for more favorable coverage. He denies wrongdoing in both cases.

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