Kulanu MK backs bid to rein in courts, is open to serving under an indicted PM

In about-face, Roy Folkman says he’s ‘unequivocally’ in favor of advancing bill that would limit High Court of Justice’s powers

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Kulanu MK Roy Folkman seen during a faction meeting on July 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu MK Roy Folkman seen during a faction meeting on July 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Kulanu lawmaker on Thursday said he was “unequivocally” in favor of passing a law to curb judiciary oversight, and signaled that his center-right party had reversed its position and would remain in a Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition even if the prime minister were indicted on criminal charges.

“In the past, I’ve said I wouldn’t sit with a prime minister under indictment, and today I’ve changed my mind and am considering it,” MK Roy Folkman told activists from the centrist Blue and White party who gathered to protest outside his house in the central village of Nes Harim, according to Hebrew reports.

Folkman, who is seen as representing the moderate flank of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, also said he would support the passage of a controversial bill allowing the government to re-legislate proposals shot down by the High Court of Justice.

“I am unequivocally in favor of the override clause. This is known from the previous [Knesset term],” he could be seen telling the activists in footage from the scene.

He also said the Blue and White activists had rendered his party — which shrank from 10 seats to four in the April election — “irrelevant” on such matters, saying the broad public support for the new centrist slate meant Kulanu was no longer a kingmaker in the coalition.

Party head Kahlon has previously stated he would walk away from a Netanyahu coalition if the prime minister is charged in the corruption cases pending against him, bringing down the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (R) are seen ahead of a Knesset vote on the 2019 state budget on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Kulanu party and its faction chair Folkman have in the past also slammed attempts by the right-wing Jewish Home party to advance an override clause to curb the power of the Supreme Court, calling it “a political campaign to weaken the rule of law.”

“Those currently pushing the issue are the extreme margins of the coalition. I think that the public can feel secure in the fact they have have a party like Kulanu in the coalition,” Folkman said last May.

In Kulanu’s 2015 coalition agreement with Netanyahu’s Likud, the party explicitly stipulated that it would oppose any bill that weakens the judiciary’s oversight powers.

In a tweet later on Thursday morning, Folkman said he told the activists that “in light of the election results, we must reconsider our conduct.”

“I did not say that I would sit under and support the coalition in any situation,” he added. “With all due respect to Blue and White… we are the ones who stood firmly against [the advancement] of personalized legislation for four years.”

Folkman’s about-face was condemned by Blue and White MK Yair Lapid.

“In front of Blue and White activists this morning, Folkman admitted that he is changing his mind because of the pressure and is considering sitting with Netanyahu even after an indictment is filed,” he tweeted. “Is this why you went into politics, Folkman? To work for the corrupt?”

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 13, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The remarks came amid coalition talks between Netanyahu’s Likud and his prospective partners, including the four-seat Kulanu, which is expected to ink a deal to join the government by the May 28 deadline.

According to a report on Wednesday evening, support for the far-reaching constitutional change to curb the powers of the Supreme Court will be included in the coalition agreements.

Such a law would be of immense potential personal significance for Netanyahu, who is facing prosecution in three corruption cases, and is widely expected to ask his fellow Knesset members to vote in favor of giving him immunity from prosecution, as is possible under existing Israeli law. In the current balance between the legislature and the judiciary, however, the Supreme Court would likely overturn such a Knesset decision. The legislation mooted by the incoming government would deny the court the right to do so, meaning that Netanyahu would not face prosecution.

Last week, Likud said the coalition agreements would not include provisions for legislation to change Israel’s existing immunity laws, and reports in recent days have indicated that Netanyahu believes he will be able to secure immunity from prosecution even under the existing legislation, and has thus shifted his focus to legislation that would prevent Supreme Court intervention on the immunity issue.

Blue and White, the main opposition party, is organizing a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the prime minister’s efforts to evade prosecution via new legislation, and the planned curbing of the Supreme Court’s authority.

Folkman’s remarks came a day after the attorney general agreed to postpone the prime minister’s pre-indictment hearing until early October. 

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in the three cases against him, and for bribery in one of them, in February. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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