The High Court of Justice will hear a petition in mid-September calling for the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Office, the court said Wednesday, drawing rebuke from an ally of the premier attempting to water down the court’s powers.
The petition claims that the premier’s efforts to advance the judicial overhaul violate a conflict of interest agreement forbidding him from working on issues connected to the legal system due to his ongoing criminal trial.
The hearing, expected to take place on September 12, will be presided over by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Uzi Vogelman and Justice Isaac Amit. Last week, the court said it would hear the petition, but did not set a date or announce who would hear the case.
The court ordered Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to issue a response to the petition by August 20. In March, Baharav-Miara sent a letter informing Netanyahu that he had violated the conflict of interest agreement, and adding that any further involvement on his part in the coalition’s judicial overhaul would be “illegal and tainted by a conflict of interest.”
Netanyahu signed a conflict of interest agreement with then-Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit in 2020 that forbade the prime minister from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial on corruption charges.
The petition was submitted by a group called “Mivtzar Hademokratia” (״Fortress of Democracy”) that includes members of the high-tech industry, academics and former security officials including former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon.
In January, the group submitted a successful petition against the appointment of Aryeh Deri to the position of health and interior minister, forcing Netanyahu to dismiss his close political ally on the grounds that his appointment was “extremely unreasonable” in light of the Shas leader’s numerous convictions of corruption.
Netanyahu’s coalition is currently working to amend Basic Law: The Judiciary, so that courts may not exercise judicial review on the basis of reasonableness. Particularly, the bill would ban the courts from invalidating or even reviewing government and ministerial decisions, including appointments and dismissals of officials, based on the judicial test of reasonableness, although it would allow for such review over decisions made by professional civil servants.
Following the court’s announcement, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the government figure most associated with the judicial overhaul, said that “in a democracy, the people decide who will be prime minister.”
“The high court’s unauthorized meddling is a dangerous attempt to crush the democratic choice of 2.5 million citizens who just a few months ago chose Benjamin Netanyahu to be their prime minister,” Levin added.
In May, the court ruled that Netanyahu was not in contempt by declaring he would involve himself in the case, but ordered him to heed Baharav-Miara’s instructions to stay out of the matter.
Amid speculation that Netanyahu could be represented by a private attorney in the case rather than by the attorney general, the Ynet news site reported Thursday evening, without citing a source, that Baharav-Miara was expected to represent the premier in court and defend his position.
In a joint statement last week, the heads of coalition parties attacked the High Court’s decision to hear the petition.
“An extremist political group led by Dan Halutz is trying to remove a sitting prime minister, elected by a huge majority in democratic elections, with a baseless petition,” they said, in reference to the group that filed the appeal.
“We are shocked by the decision to hear the petition, particularly after the Knesset passed legislation that prevents the removal of an elected prime minister with such false claims,” they added. “This is a slippery slope [that could cause] grievous harm to democracy and the will of the people.”
It would be unprecedented for the court to rule for a prime minister’s removal.