High Court dismisses petition that sought to order Netanyahu to recuse himself

Justices scold Israel Democracy Watch for failing to turn to PM or AG, rather than court, following Netanyahu’s announcement that he would now get involved in judicial overhaul

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected outright a petition that requested it order Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recuse himself, writing that not all legal avenues have been exhausted to justify a petition to the court.

The Israel Democracy Watch organization petitioned the High Court on Sunday asking for it to force Netanyahu to step down, following the prime minister’s announcement that he had started to directly engage with the judicial overhaul legislation his government is advancing — in violation of a conflict of interest deal he had agreed to.

The petition claimed that Netanyahu has a clear conflict of interest in dealing with the radical reform agenda due to his criminal corruption trials.

In response, the court rejected the petition and scolded Israel Democracy Watch for failing to first turn either to Netanyahu himself or to the attorney general, and instead requesting the court order on the very next working day after the premier’s announcement.

The High Court therefore dismissed the petition outright without even requesting responses from Netanyahu or the attorney general.

Last week, Netanyahu declared that he would ignore his conflict of interest deal to jump into the ongoing controversy of the overhaul legislation.

Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing over the legality of Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a minister, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His speech came just hours after the Knesset passed legislation that shielded Netanyahu from being removed from office.

On Thursday, Netanyahu declared that “until today, my hands were tied. So tonight I announce to you, no more.” Netanyahu added that he was “putting all other issues aside” and “will do everything I can to find a solution for the sake of our people, our state.”

A 2020 agreement forbade Netanyahu from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

After his speech on Thursday, the attorney general issued a harshly worded letter Friday accusing him of illegally violating the conflict of interest deal.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

“In your speech last night, you referred to the initiatives concerning the judicial system, and in particular to the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, and announced that you are now directly involved in these initiatives,” Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara wrote.

“In doing so, you violated the ruling of the Supreme Court, according to which, as a prime minister accused of crimes, you must refrain from taking actions that give rise to a reasonable fear of the existence of a conflict of interest between your personal interests relating to the criminal proceedings and your role as prime minister,” she added.

“Last night you announced publicly that you intend to violate the Supreme Court’s ruling, and to act contrary to the opinion of the attorney general, which obligates you according to this ruling,” she said, concluding that “your statement last night and any further actions by you that violate that agreement are completely illegal and in conflict of interest.”

In response to the attorney general’s letter, a source close to Netanyahu rejected any claims that he acted illegally.

“Every sane person understands that at this time of national crisis that has internal and external consequences for the State of Israel, the prime minister must act to try to bring about as broad as possible national consensus, to prevent violence, and to ensure law and order and the day-to-day functioning of the state,” the official said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu did not violate any ruling of the Supreme Court or any conflict of interest settlement.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: