The author of a bill that would bar police from recommending charges in criminal investigations is pushing to fast track the legislation and give it final approval by early next week, despite growing criticism of the measure as designed to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from possible criminal prosecution.
Likud MK David Amsalem, the so-called recommendation bill’s sponsor and a key Netanyahu ally, is pushing for the draft legislation to become law next week and take effect in two weeks, Hebrew media reported Tuesday.
The bill, which cleared its first reading at the Knesset on Monday despite fierce opposition, is currently awaiting approval from the Internal Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Amsalem.
The Likud lawmaker has scheduled committee meetings for Thursday, Sunday and Monday with the aim of paving the way for the second and third readings of the bill to take place on Monday.
Following its final approval by the Knesset, the legislation would then take effect after 10 days.
In light of opposition lawmakers’ objections to Amsalem’s efforts to push through the legislation, the Knesset’s legal adviser on Tuesday night released a legal opinion stating that the process of expediting the bill through parliament was permissible.
The bill has widely been seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Netanyahu from public fallout or possible prosecution should police find sufficient evidence against him in two ongoing corruption probes to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors. While police would be allowed to recommend charges to the prosecution in high profile cases, including Netanyahu’s, under a last-minute change to the bill, the recommendation would be be kept secret, on pain of jail time.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has vowed to challenge the law in the High Court.
In recent days, Amsalem and Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) have upped pressure on coalition lawmakers to vote for the bill, which was revised before passing its first reading on Monday to take into account the criticism of fellow coalition parties, namely Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.
According to Hebrew media reports Tuesday, Amsalem and Bitan warned Kulanu that Netanyahu was prepared to call fresh elections if the party did not support the bill.
With the draft legislation inching closer to becoming law, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan on Tuesday voiced his opposition to the bill, calling it “problematic” and “superfluous” and saying it would hamper the work of his office.
Speaking at a journalism conference in the southern port city of Eilat, Nitzan said the so-called “recommendations law” was “disturbing” and unnecessary.
“It is a problematic law, a superfluous law, that will harm the prosecutor’s work,” he declared. “If I understood the purpose of the law, and what public interest it serves, that would suffice. But, to my regret, this matter is really problematic, and I thought it worthwhile that I state my opinion loud and clear.”
“As long as it was just a matter of preventing publication of the police recommendations or the police opinion, a public debate on it could be held,” continued Nitzan. “One the one hand, there is the public’s right to know and on the other hand there is the effects on privacy.
Nitzan said that although the law had been softened from its original version, it “is still very problematic.”
He noted that, under the current arrangements, prosecutors do not have to accept the police recommendations.
“Many times, we don’t accept the recommendations,” he said. “What is this silencing [of the police] for? It is very disturbing to us.”
The revised bill approved by the Knesset on Monday bans police investigators who are wrapping up their probes from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment (although this provision would not apply to the ongoing Netanyahu investigations) and bars police from publicizing information or leaking their conclusions to the media. The bill initially faced opposition from police and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — who will ultimately decide whether to press charges against Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is being investigated on allegations of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and an alleged quid-pro-quo deal with a newspaper publisher, in two separate cases known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, respectively.
The prime minister denies all the charges against him. Although not a suspect, the prime minister is tied to key suspects in another graft investigation surrounding the multi-billion shekel purchase of navy submarines and ships from a German shipbuilder, in what is known as Case 3000.
“Even today the attorney general hasn’t ordered the opening of an investigation into the prime minister,” Nitzan said of the submarines affair. “The significance is clear — there is not enough evidence to justify such an investigation. If there is, the public will know about it. If we feel that in this matter or another there is need to get testimony from the prime minister, we will do so. We don’t notify ahead of time who will be questioned and who won’t.”
According to Nitzan, the Case 1000 and 2000 investigations won’t go on for much longer and the material will soon be handed over to the prosecutors. Netanyahu, who has already been questioned by police six times regarding the two investigations is likely to be grilled again, Nitzan said.
Netanyahu most recently faced investigators at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem earlier this month.