Likud MKs submit bill to split up, limit powers of AG; party swiftly disavows it

Proposal argues attorney general faces conflict of interest when called upon to investigate cabinet members; Netanyahu’s ruling faction quickly says it’s ‘not on the agenda’

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Days after passing the first major judicial overhaul bill, and with the country still reeling from that legislative earthquake, coalition MKs on Wednesday submitted a new bill to the Knesset that seeks to split up the powers of the attorney general and hand over the ability to prosecute members of the cabinet to the state attorney.

Eleven members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party sponsored the bill, representing about a third of the faction’s elected lawmakers, but the party quickly distanced itself from the measure.

Coalition lawmakers have targeted Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara as they pushed legislation aimed at limiting the judiciary, and, if it advances, a bill to strip the attorney general’s office of authority would likely be highly contentious.

The measure introduced Wednesday says the attorney general, who also serves as a legal adviser to the cabinet, faces a potential conflict of interest when investigating its members, since she is familiar with them. She would thus be hard-pressed to remain objective in an investigation of the cabinet, so the authority to probe the cabinet should go to the state attorney, the bill argues.

The measure, if passed, would only take effect after the next election.

The coalition’s opponents have long feared it may seek to dismiss or sideline Baharav-Miara, who has often opposed the government’s positions on various matters, and particularly on its efforts to curtail the judiciary.

Several members of the cabinet have repeatedly said she should be fired, sometimes to her face.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a vote on the reasonableness bill at the Knesset on July 24, 2023 after being fitted with a pacemaker. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shortly after its lawmakers submitted the bill, Likud issued a statement saying the measure was a “private” one that “was not coordinated with the leaders of the coalition.”

Netanyahu was not involved in the initiative, Likud claimed.

“Such bills will not be advanced without the approval of the coalition leaders and [this bill] is not on the agenda,” Likud said.

Likud officials also told the Kan public broadcaster that the bill was submitted for legal review several weeks ago and was approved for filing this week. They asserted that it would not be advanced without broad agreement on the matter.

The statements marked the second time in two days that Likud was forced to distance itself from a contentious coalition bill.

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox lawmakers presented a bill to enshrine the value of Torah study in a quasi-constitutional Basic Law. Likud quickly shot down the bill amid backlash.

The government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary have ignited sustained, mass public protests, and opposition from military personnel, business leaders, foreign allies and others.

The coalition passed the first measure in its legislative package into law on Monday, despite immense pressure to halt the process and seek broader consensus. The so-called “reasonableness” bill restricts judges’ ability to declare government moves unreasonable.

The law’s passage sparked fury on Israel’s streets and thousands of military reservists, including many in high-level positions, said they were quitting their service in protest.

A serious push from the government to strip the attorney general’s office of its powers would likely set off further fierce backlash against the coalition.

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