Likud bill would limit ability to remove PM, as group seeks to disqualify Netanyahu

Proposal sponsored by MK Ofir Katz comes as High Court reviews petition demanding Israeli leader be required to step down for breaching conflict of interest agreement

MK Ofir Katz leads a meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ofir Katz leads a meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud on Sunday submitted a new bill that, if passed, would severely limit the grounds for disqualification of a serving prime minister.

The bill comes after the party reacted with outrage to the High Court of Justice reviewing a petition seeking to declare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unfit for office, as well as media reports — since denied — that the attorney general was considering forcing the premier to take a leave of absence.

Sunday’s proposal, which seeks to amend the “Basic Law: The Government,” says that only the prime minister or the cabinet, with a 75 percent majority, can declare a prime minister unfit for office — and then only for reasons pertaining to their mental or physical health.

“In rare circumstances where a declaration is made against the prime minister’s will, the Knesset speaker will bring the decision to parliament, which can approve the disqualification with a majority of 90 Knesset members,” the bill reads.

In January reports surfaced claiming Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara was considering forcing Netanyahu to step down for violating his conflict of interest agreement — reports which were denied by the attorney general’s office.

Earlier this month, The Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the court saying Netanyahu must be removed, citing his government’s efforts to radically transform the judiciary and arguing that Netanyahu is in violation of a conflict of interest arrangement that bars him from involvement in matters that could impact his ongoing trial on graft charges.

As a preliminary step, the court asked the government to provide a response to the allegations.

Under that 2020 agreement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in any matters that affect witnesses or other defendants in his ongoing graft trial, or in legislation that would impact the legal proceedings against him.

Last week, President Isaac Herzog reportedly asked the attorney general to allow Netanyahu to participate in compromise talks over his government’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation, despite the conflict of interest agreement. However, she rebuffed the request.

The bill, sponsored by Likud MK Ofir Katz, emphasizes the gravity of removing a publicly elected leader.

“It cannot be allowed in a democratic state for a legal opinion that has no basis in the law to lead to an effective coup,” Katz said. “A dramatic move like forcibly removing a serving and functioning prime minister must be determined by the people’s representatives alone, without the involvement of an unelected body.”

Coalition leaders have twice voiced outrage and warnings that a potential coup was in the offing — first following the media reports on the attorney general ostensibly weighing such a declaration, and then again after the court asked the government to provide a response to the petition.

On the left: Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara at welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). On the right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Another Likud MK, Tally Gotliv, took direct aim at Baharav-Miara, accusing her of preventing Netanyahu from carrying out his duties via “overt and covert threats.”

“Urgent action must be taken to advance this bill for the sake of a stable right-wing government,” she insisted.

Responding to the proposal, National Unity party head Benny Gantz accused the coalition of using the bill as a distraction from the growing crisis over the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“Instead of sitting and talking, Netanyahu and his people continue to plant roadside bombs against democracy in Israel. He and his coalition’s attempts to stir and ignite a conversation about a disqualification that isn’t even on the table at the moment reinforces their goal of preventing dialogue,” Gantz said.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases on charges of fraud and breach of trust, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and claims without evidence that the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media and left-wing rivals.

Netanyahu’s new government is in the midst of pushing contentious legislation that will seriously weaken the judiciary. The overhaul proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government control over judicial appointments; and turn ministry legal advisers into political appointees while making their counsel non-binding.

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