Likud MK says eliminating key charge against Netanyahu from criminal code a top goal

David Amsalem, a loyalist of former PM, demands nixing of offense of fraud and breach of trust, claims Yair Lapid is a ‘dictator’

Likud MK David Amsalem addresses the Knesset plenum, June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem addresses the Knesset plenum, June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud MK David Amsalem on Saturday called for an overhaul of the Israeli legal system to eliminate the criminal offense of fraud and breach of trust — a key accusation against Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in his ongoing criminal trial.

Amsalem expressed his support for an initiative introduced by far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich. Smotrich’s program, unveiled on Tuesday, two weeks before the November 1 Knesset election, includes completely eliminating that charge from the Israeli criminal code. “A right-wing government has no right to exist if it doesn’t abolish the offense of fraud and breach of trust,” Amsalem said.

Nodding to the legislative proposal unveiled by Smotrich, Amsalem told Channel 12’s Meet the Press that he had sought to advance a similar law in the past and that the idea has also received support from MKs across the aisle.

“No one knows what a breach of trust is,” Amsalem declared, also claiming that the charges against Netanyahu were rigged.

“You want to put a person in prison for breach of trust? I know what bribery is, what murder is, what theft is. What is breach of trust?” Amsalem continued.

Fraud and breach of trust refers to an offense committed by a public servant, in which that individual misuses their authority and the trust placed in them by the public.

It has at times been criticized for its vague nature.

Netanyahu is accused of illicit dealings with wealthy billionaires and media moguls for his personal benefit during his time in power in three cases.

He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases and a charge of bribery in one.

Chairman of the Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich presents his party’s “Law and Justice” program during a press conference in Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“The justice issue is just about the most important issue in the country. If we don’t change it, our country is going to sink,” Amsalem declared during the interview.

He said that there were a number of reforms to the justice system that his Likud party is looking to pass.

“Without [doing] this, there’s no point in returning to power,” he continued, specifying that legislation to scrap the fraud and breach of trust charge was among those reforms. He also said he would not join the next government unless he was named minister of justice.

In a statement, Likud distanced itself from Amsalem’s comments, saying his stated positions were his own and that any reforms would not be retroactive.

Smotrich acknowledged on Tuesday that Israeli law as it stands would mean that Netanyahu’s fraud and breach of trust charges would be dropped if that crime were abolished, since changes to the criminal code are immediately applicable, even to ongoing proceedings. He claimed, however, that a way would be found to ensure Netanyahu’s trial would nevertheless continue, so that the legislation could not be portrayed as a “personal law” designed for Netanyahu’s benefit.

The Likud party said in response to Smotrich’s proposals that they would “not be applied retroactively” and would not affect the legal proceedings against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu himself said on Wednesday that he’d consider Smotrich’s proposed reforms.

Still, he called on voters to support Likud over Religious Zionism.

In the run-up to previous elections — the upcoming vote is Israel’s fifth in less than four years — Netanyahu similarly appealed to supporters to vote Likud instead of other factions in his right-religious bloc, as he sought to best position himself to get the first shot at forming a government after ballots are cast.

Amsalem in the Saturday interview went on to call Prime Minister Yair Lapid a “dictator.”

It was the first interview he had given in over a month, with analysts speculating that Netanyahu has sought to minimize the public appearances of Likud’s more controversial lawmakers in order to appeal to moderate voters.

Opposition leader and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of the Manufacturers Association of Israel in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Amsalem claimed that Israel under the current government “is not really a democratic state — just an illusion of democracy.”

Criticizing Lapid’s decision not to bring the new maritime agreement with Lebanon to the Knesset for parliamentary authorization, which legal councilors to the government deemed kosher, Amsalem claimed, “We are close to the point where the left tells us that we cannot vote at the polling stations either.”

Amsalem’s appearance came as the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit party surged further in the polls to as many as 14 seats in recent days, with analysts saying the boost was coming at the expense of the Likud party.

As a result, Channel 12 reported Saturday that Likud is considering forming campaign centers in cities where Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit enjoys some of its strongest support, including in Hebron’s Jewish settlement.

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