The High Court of Justice decided Thursday to hear a petition demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be removed from office for allegedly flouting the conflict of interest agreement he signed amid his ongoing corruption trial.
The agreement, which Netanyahu signed with former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, requires him to avoid involvement in judicial legislation that could affect the outcome of his cases.
Judge Ruth Ronnen ruled that the petition will be examined by a panel of justices in the near future, but did not set a date for the hearing. The decision signals that the court isn’t rejecting the petition outright.
Petitioners from the Fortress of Democracy protest group, led by former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, based their claim on a letter written by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara in March, 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.”
The strongly worded letter from Baharav-Miara had come after Netanyahu announced that he would thenceforth ignore the conflict of interest deal and involve himself in the deeply controversial judicial overhaul legislation. Hours earlier, the Knesset had passed a law designed to shield Netanyahu from being removed from office for breaking the agreement’s boundaries.
The overhaul was frozen by Netanyahu days later for a period of several months to allow for compromise talks with the opposition on an agreed judicial reform, putting the matter on the back burner. Parts of the overhaul legislation are now moving forward again, however.
Dafna Holz-Lechner, an attorney representing the petitioners, said the group was pleased with the decision to discuss the matter, and said the only reasonable result would be the ousting of Netanyahu as prime minister if the violations are found to have occurred.
“We believe this is the required result, since otherwise there is no significance to the prohibition on an elected official serving in his position while in conflict of interest,” the lawyer said.
According to the state’s response to the petition, the attorney general views the case as unnecessary since the court already struck down a petition claiming Netanyahu was in contempt of court in May.
Supporters of Netanyahu say that as prime minister overseeing the coalition’s overhaul plan, it is impossible for him to not involve himself in the matter. He has increasingly been reported to be directly involved in the legislation efforts.
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, 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.”
During a fiery Sunday cabinet session, ministers excoriated Baharav-Miara over what they claimed was selective enforcement against anti-judicial overhaul protesters, with some calling for her ouster.
Since the compromise talks collapsed last month, the coalition has focused its legislative efforts on passing the so-called “reasonableness” bill, which would cancel the court’s ability to evaluate politicians’ decisions based on their reasonableness, before the end of the Knesset’s summer session at the end of July.