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AG said to consider the bill legally defensible

Justice minister details bill that would block Netanyahu from forming government

Gideon Sa’ar’s proposal would prevent any MK indicted of serious crime from becoming PM; Shaked opposes the legislation; Bennett silent

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar (right). (Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Gideon Sa'ar. (Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday released the text of a bill that would bar a lawmaker charged with a serious crime from becoming prime minister, which if approved would prevent former premier Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power.

The proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws 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 a MK could also not be included in a vote of confidence in a new government or become alternative 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.

“We must prepare better governance regulations for the future, which fortify Israel’s values,” Sa’ar said in a statement. “We are obligated to prevent a return of the situation Israel experienced recently.”

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The statement did not name Netanyahu, who would be banned from forming a government if the proposal is passed into law. 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 supported the legislation. Channel 12 news reported, rather, that Mandelblit considers the bill to be legally legitimate and defensible in any future challenge at the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu’s Likud party denounced the proposal.

“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.

According to the Walla news site, Sa’ar was not expected to begin advancing the bill before the proposal of a state budget, which the coalition must approve by November 14. If the budget is not passed, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and new elections will be called.

However, it was unclear if the bill will have sufficient support to advance. Hebrew media reports said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Nir Orbach — both members of Bennett’s Yamina party — oppose the bill. The coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party also reportedly has unspecified reservations about the proposal.

Shaked on Wednesday confirmed she opposes the legislation.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett, who has previously signaled he would oppose such a law, has 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.

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 again becoming prime minister.

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