Police recommendations law passed after 2-day filibuster
Prevents cops from from stating if suspect should be charged

Police recommendations law passed after 2-day filibuster

Controversial legislation to muzzle investigators won't apply to current probes into Netanyahu, other MKs; Yesh Atid set to petition High Court

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Coalition chairman David Amsalem seen during a marathon plenary session in the Knesset regarding the police recommendations bill, December 27, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Coalition chairman David Amsalem seen during a marathon plenary session in the Knesset regarding the police recommendations bill, December 27, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Knesset early Thursday morning voted the so-called police recommendations bill into law after a filibuster by the opposition that paralyzed the parliament for two days.

The controversial legislation, which will not apply to the two corruption cases into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was approved in its second and third readings with 59 lawmakers in favor and 54 opposed.

The opposition Yesh Atid party announced it would petition the High Court of Justice on Thursday against the legislation.

The law prevents police, upon wrapping up their investigations and handing over the files to prosecutors, from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for indictment. It will apply only to probes of public officials and other high-profile cases.

However, the amended version of the law by Likud MK and coalition chairman David Amsalem also states that the attorney general, state prosecution, or other prosecutors may seek police input on the evidence, should it be deemed necessary.

The law will not apply to open cases, including the ongoing investigations into Netanyahu, a graft probe into former coalition whip David Bitan, and investigations involving Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas).

Coalition members celebrate and congratulate one another after passing the police recommendations bill into law, December 28, 2017 (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Critics say the law is designed to protect corrupt politicians from public backlash,  muzzle investigators, and curb police authority. Proponents, meanwhile, argue the police recommendations — once leaked to the media — cause irreparable damage to the suspects’ reputations and only rarely result in an indictment by prosecutors.

“The recommendations law is a fight between a culture of democracy and a culture of corruption,” said opposition leader Isaac Herzog in his speech wrapping up the filibuster. “This law is not merely a law of shame, but a law of weakness.”

The law was passed as police gear up to issue recommendations on Netanyahu’s two corruption cases. The prime minister is suspected of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and of cutting an alleged quid-pro-quo with a newspaper publisher for more favorable coverage. The prime minister denies wrongdoing in both cases.

The final hours of the rowdy debate were fraught, with coalition and opposition lawmakers frequently descending into screaming matches.

Ahead of the final votes, security guards intervened when it appeared Likud MK Oren Hazan and Joint (Arab) List MK Hanin Zoabi were heading toward a physical altercation. He called her a “terrorist,” commented on her appearance, and said no one would offer even a “two-footed goat” for her hand in marriage; she called him a “trafficker of women into prostitution,” before both were escorted out of the hall.

Likud Knesset Member Oren Hazan is being taken out as he reacts during a speech by Hanin Zoabi (unseen) during a marathon plenary session in the Israeli parliament regarding the police recommendations bill. December 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The two had sparred earlier, with Zoabi yelling at Likud lawmakers, including Hazan and Culture Minister Miri Regev, both of whom called her a “traitor.”

Shakespeare, Lamentations, Richard III

Opposition lawmakers held up the final votes with both impassioned tirades against the legislation to the mostly empty plenum and gimmicks.

The Zionist Union’s Yoel Hasson, the opposition whip, spent three hours at the podium overnight Monday reading Whatsapp messages from his constituents after crowdsourcing objections to the bill.

Another Zionist Union MK, Eitan Cabel, read out — and sang out — portions from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations on the destruction of ancient Jerusalem. Later, he undercut somewhat that sense of gravity when he exchanged his thoughts on Saturday’s El Clasico soccer match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List).

Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah, a former philosophy professor, on Wednesday lectured the vacant hall on Machiavelli and Plato.

Overnight Tuesday, MK Miki Levy (Yesh Atid) tried to set a Knesset record, speaking for seven hours straight, but fell short of Michael Eitan’s 10-hour oration from 1993. His fellow lawmaker Ofer Shelah, on Tuesday, read portions of Richard III.

From the coalition, Likud MK Amir Ohana gave a speech in rhyme.

Committee meetings in the Knesset on Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled due to the filibuster.

According to Channel 10 news, the operational costs incurred by the opposition’s marathon debate  — including keeping the Knesset running overnight for two nights and putting up lawmakers in nearby hotels — amounted to some NIS 300,000-500,000 ($86,000-$143,000).

Opposition members blasted the vote and vowed to continue fighting the law.

“The 27th of December is a black day in the annals of the struggle against crime and corruption,” tweeted Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union faction. “A government under me will annul the recommendations law.”

“Tonight, the Knesset passed an anti-moral law that hopelessly distorts the principles of justice and transparency,” Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai said in a statement. “The purpose of this law is to neuter the Israel Police’s investigations… It may be on the books but it will never be implemented.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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