The heads of the coalition send a scathing letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara over reports she is close to ordering Benjamin Netanyahu to take a leave of absence as prime minister, warning her that such a move is tantamount to a coup.
Baharav-Miara is reportedly discussing the prospect on the grounds that Netanyahu’s government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary amount to a breach of conflict of interest rules that bar him from involvement in matters that might impact his ongoing criminal trial for corruption.
“Recently, several news items were published in the media according to which you are holding discussions regarding the possibility of compelling the Prime Minister of Israel to ‘take a leave of absence.’ To our astonishment, you have not denied these reports until now,” says the letter.
“An attempt to declare or announce such a move for an incumbent leader is a clearly illegal attempt to depose and overthrow an elected and legal government, without an iota of justification by the law,” the letter warns.
The Kan public broadcaster reported Friday that Baharav-Miara and her aides are closely studying a 2021 decision by Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who ruled that the attorney general alone has the authority to make such a call. Channel 12 news went further, reporting that Baharav-Miara is close to making the unprecedented decision.
Neither network cited a source in their reports, which came days after Baharav-Miara notified Netanyahu that he remains bound by conflict of interest rules, first drawn up in late 2020 by former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit, barring him from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments, or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial.
The letter is signed by the heads of all the coalition members, with the exception of Netanyahu’s Likud. Justice Minister Yariv Levin signs for the ruling party.
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 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 weaken Israel’s judiciary. The overhaul proposed by 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; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.