Knesset expected to vote next week on committee to probe legal system

Bezalel Smotrich’s bill, which comes after TV report alleged police and prosecutors covered up conflicts of interest in PM graft probe, could trigger a fresh coalition showdown

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)
Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)

The Knesset is expected to vote next week on a right-wing opposition lawmaker’s proposal to form a parliamentary committee to investigate Israel’s legal system, setting up another potential clash between the coalition’s Likud and Blue and White parties.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, the bill’s backer, shared a video on Friday of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin calling for a probe into a television report allegation that senior law enforcement officials covered up a serious conflict of interest by a police officer investigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, in order not to derail the graft investigations into the premier.

“On Wednesday these words will be put to the test when my proposal to form an investigative parliamentary committee will come up for a vote in the plenum. Will this stay within the realms of speech or will it finally also move to deeds?” Smotrich tweeted.

The video shared by Smotrich was from a plenum session on Wednesday, during which Levin feuded with Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn over the Yamina MK’s proposal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a vote at the assembly hall of the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

“Our stance is clear, that this matter must be probed,” said Levin, who is from Netanyahu’s Likud party. “It’s your duty to clarify these things, it’s your duty to promise they will be investigated and probed. It’s your duty to be the first to demand this probe, not block it.”

Nissenkorn meanwhile warned Likud against supporting the bill and said such allegations could be dealt with in court.

“You don’t create a rift in this manner on the issue of safeguarding the rule of law, clarifying matters in court, these are things that are Blue and White’s core beliefs… We won’t give up on this issue,” he said.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

The coalition infighting over the proposal was similar to an earlier showdown between Likud and Blue and White over Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked’s proposal to give the Knesset the ability to override the High Court in cases where the bench strikes down new law. The Blue and White party threatened to dismantle the coalition if Likud reneged on a coalition agreement and voted for the measure, triggering new elections, but the bill was struck down in a plenum vote that Likud MKs skipped.

In its report Monday, Channel 12 said senior law enforcement officials had filed a complaint alleging that Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, the chief investigator into the allegations Sara Netanyahu misspent public funds for her personal benefit, did not disclose to his superiors in 2016 that he was in an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes.

Nir-Mozes is the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, who has been charged together with the prime minister in Case 2000. According to prosecutors, Mozes and Netanyahu negotiated a deal by which Mozes would ease the paper’s criticism of Netanyahu, who in exchange would push rules to weaken the circulation of rival tabloid Israel Hayom. Netanyahu was charged with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes faces bribery charges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the swearing-in ceremony of the 23rd government in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

Netanyahu has denied accusations in all three cases, which also include a bribery charge over another media deal, alleging he is a victim of a conspiracy by the press, law enforcement and the legal system to unseat him.

In June 2019, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations she illegally procured and then misreported catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The TV report showed internal police documents purportedly revealing that when confronted about rumors of his relationship, Rotenberg denied them and said there was no conflict of interest, and was granted access to Case 2000 materials.

Netanyahu called the news report “shocking” and an “atom bomb” that proved the corruption cases against him were a conspiracy. He also called for an independent investigation into the allegations in the TV report.

Former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, cited in the TV reports of a cover-up, on Thursday dismissed the accusations and accused Netanyahu of lying to the public.

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