Likud: 'Iranian law is a declaration of war on democracy'

Joint List offers support to coalition bill barring Netanyahu from becoming PM

As Yamina’s Shaked criticizes legislation that would prevent any MK indicted for serious crime from forming government, Ayman Odeh says his party could give necessary backing

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh speaks to reporters outside his home in Haifa, on March 3, 2020. (Flash90)
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh speaks to reporters outside his home in Haifa, on March 3, 2020. (Flash90)

The leader of the predominantly Arab Joint List party said Wednesday that it could lend opposition support to a government bid to pass a law bill that would effectively bar former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running for reelection, after some coalition members were said to oppose it.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar released the text of the bill, a proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws that would block any Knesset member indicted for a crime that includes a minimum sentence of three years and moral turpitude from being tasked by the president with forming a government.

Such an MK could also not be included in a vote of confidence in a new government or become alternate prime minister, a position created for the previous power-sharing government between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz and carried over to the current one between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

The bill leaves some leeway — with the head of the Central Elections Committee able to waive the restriction in certain circumstances. The proposed law, if approved, would take effect after the next elections when a new Knesset is sworn in.

Netanyahu, now opposition leader, is on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing. A public servant convicted of fraud and breach of trust faces a minimum prison sentence of three years, while one convicted of bribery faces 10 years in prison or a fine.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit backs the legislation.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-education minister Naftali Bennett (left) at the annual Bible Quiz at the Jerusalem Theatre on Independence Day, April 19, 2018. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

But the legislation is opposed by some members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, including his No. 2, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said Wednesday at a conference that she does not think “the attorney general should decide who heads the government.”

Shaked added that there is an agreement with Sa’ar that the bill will not go up for a vote until the passage of a state budget, which the coalition must approve by November 14 if it is to survive.

But on Wednesday, Joint List chief Ayman Odeh tweeted: “Shaked only has one finger [in Knesset votes], we have six. Gideon Sa’ar, the law can be passed already next week.”

However, Shaked cannot vote in the Knesset since she resigned as lawmaker in June, making use of a law enabling new ministers to step down from the Knesset and be replaced by the next candidate on the party’s election slate.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks during a Yamina faction meeting at the Knesset on July 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shaked is not, however, the only coalition member who has expressed reservations about the legislation. Hebrew media reports said Yamina MK Nir Orbach also opposes the bill. The coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party also reportedly has reservations about the proposal.

Furthermore, any coalition party can veto the advancement of proposed changes to Basic Laws.

Bennett, who previously signaled that he would oppose such a law, had not publicly commented on the proposal, but the Kan public broadcaster reported the premier gave Sa’ar “the green light” to go ahead with releasing the details of the bill.

In a statement Tuesday, Sa’ar said: “We must prepare better governance regulations for the future that fortify Israel’s values. We are obligated to prevent a return of the situation Israel experienced recently.” The statement did not name Netanyahu.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar speaks at a conference in southern Israel on July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

Netanyahu’s Likud party denounced the proposal on Tuesday.

“Sa’ar, who is scraping the bottom of the electoral threshold in all polls, is proposing an anti-democratic law in the style of Iran, which seeks to rule out the person supported by millions of citizens… embarrassing,” it said in a statement.

In another statement Wednesday, Likud claimed that “Bennett and Sa’ar are trying to also steal the next election,” adding that “Sa’ar’s Iranian law is a declaration of war on democracy” and that Bennett backing the law would go against an election promise he made.

According to various reports, Sa’ar is not expected to begin advancing the bill before the passage of the state budget.

A member of Sa’ar’s New Hope party has also submitted a bill that would require a prime minister to resign if indicted.

Earlier this month, Sa’ar released a legislative memo for a bill that would limit premiers from serving more than eight years in total, though it would not apply retroactively and thus not prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister again.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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