Liberman seeks support for bill barring Netanyahu from forming government

Yisrael Beytenu chief says law blocking indicted MK from forming coalition will prevent further elections; Likud slams ‘anti-democratic’ proposal, likens such law to Iran

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speaks to Israelis around Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speaks to Israelis around Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A leading rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Thursday for factions opposed to the premier to back legislation supposedly preventing him from forming a government, after a fourth round of elections in two years appeared to yield further political deadlock.

MK Avigdor Liberman, who heads the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, vowed he would “do everything” to prevent further elections. The first stage in doing so was passing a law barring a Knesset member under indictment from being tasked with assembling a coalition, he said.

Such a proposal would supposedly block Netanyahu, who is on trial for graft charges, from putting together another government. In practice, the Knesset is sworn in before the new government is formed; if Netanyahu has enough supporters to form a coalition, they could repeal the law barring him from forming a government and go ahead with business as usual.

“I expect all sides that wish for the change discussed in recent months to demonstrate responsibility and join this bill,” Liberman tweeted.

The Yisrael Beytenu chief was previously allied with Netanyahu, but the two fell out after elections in April 2019 over the premier’s partnership with ultra-Orthodox parties, helping precipitate the continued political crisis.

Netanyahu’s inability to form a stable, functioning government and refusal to quit has led Israel to four elections in two years. Concurrently, he has increasingly attacked and sought to undermine the judicial system as he stands trial for alleged corruption.

This has led a growing number of politicians from across the political spectrum to say they will refuse to join him in government.

The notion of blocking Netanyahu from running again over his criminal proceedings was raised by politicians in the past, particularly in the wake of the September 2019 and March 2020 elections, but did not manage to gain enough traction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, flanked by Likud members, wave to supporters at the party’s election night event in Jerusalem, early on March 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Liberman’s proposal was denounced by Netanyahu’s Likud party, with one lawmaker claiming it would cause a “longlasting tragedy.”

“It will be to our detriment and present us to the world as a dark regime,” MK Miki Zohar tweeted. “In democracies only the public decides who it chooses to lead the country.”

Likud itself, meanwhile, blasted the proposal as “anti-democratic” in its first statement since election night.

“The ‘change bloc’ is a whitewashed name for an anti-democratic bloc. The only change that they really want is to bring laws existing only in Iran for filtering out candidates and annul the democratic choice of over one million Israeli citizens,” the party said.

On Wednesday, Labor’s incoming MK Omer Barlev said his party would support such a bill.

But Channel 12 on Thursday said there are many in the anti-Netanyahu bloc who are not comfortable with such legislation.

According to a Wednesday report, Likud officials have reached out to MK Mansour Abbas to ascertain if his Islamist Ra’am party would back such a bill.

Citing “political sources,” the Walla news said Abbas told Likud he wasn’t in favor of laws aimed against specific individuals, but the party’s position on the matter had not been finalized. Likud denied the report, calling it “total lies.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 8, 2021. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases and bribery in one of them. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Kan news separately reported Netanyahu is concerned Abbas could support the legislation and quoted associates of the Likud leader saying he has not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with Ra’am.

Netanyahu’s opponents are considering the possibility of replacing Likud MK Yariv Levin as Knesset speaker, shifting control over the parliament’s agenda to a lawmaker opposed to the prime minister. With the speakership, lawmakers from the anti-Netanyahu bloc could potentially pass the legislation that would hypothetically bar Netanyahu from forming a government.

But Channel 12 reported Thursday that Abbas currently does not support replacing Levin, as he waits to see what potential cooperation the prime minister can offer him.

The opposition will not be able to replace Levin or legislate against Netanyahu without Abbas.

Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out sitting with Abbas in a coalition, saying that Ra’am was no different from the Arab-majority Joint List alliance — long considered a political pariah due to some of its members’ anti-Zionist views.

Netanyahu, the first sitting prime minister to be indicted, is accused of fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has claimed without evidence the charges were fabricated by the media, political rivals, prosecutors and law enforcement to replace him as prime minister.

The evidentiary stage of the trial is to begin on April 5, with hearings held three times a week.

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