Netanyahu, in rebuke of justice minister, says court rulings ‘bind everyone’

PM joins attorney general and chief justice in countering Amir Ohana’s suggestion that not all verdicts need to be honored

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with MK Amir Ohana at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with MK Amir Ohana at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that all Israelis must obey court verdicts, after the justice minister he recently appointed came under fire for suggesting the government was not always required to honor High Court rulings.

“Court decisions are binding upon everyone,” Netanyahu wrote on his personal Twitter account.

After appearing to suggest in a TV interview Wednesday that not all court rulings need be adhered to, Justice Minister Amir Ohana scrambled to clarify he would respect High Court decisions.

Nevertheless, his remarks were sharply rebuffed Thursday by Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Despite his implicit rebuke of Ohana, Netanyahu, too, has ran afoul of the court recently. The premier has been pushing for legislation that would allow the Knesset to override High Court decisions to strike down laws and administrative decisions on constitutional grounds. Those initiatives would also shore up the prime minister’s reported efforts to secure himself immunity from prosecution in the three corruption cases against him.

Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party and a Netanyahu loyalist, was tapped by the premier for the post last week and sworn in Wednesday, becoming the first openly gay cabinet minister in Israel’s history. He will head the ministry until the September elections.

He made his controversial assertion during a Wednesday interview with Channel 12 news, hours after he was sworn in.

Ohana, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the courts, gave an example of what he said was a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that he claimed should not have been followed, saying the court refused to allow the military to destroy several Palestinian buildings along the Kissufim route in the Gaza Strip.

Terrorists then used the building to murder pregnant Israeli Tali Hatuel and her four daughters.

Ohana was asked whether, in certain situations, High Court decisions should therefore not be followed. “The ultimate consideration has to be preserving citizens’ lives, yes,” he replied.

Later on Wednesday, Ohana issued a statement clarifying that the government must respect High Court rulings.

“I gave an example of an extreme case that happened in reality,” he said. “We are not talking about regular [court] decisions, and we are not talking about decisions that I happen to disagree with. I was talking about the most extreme instances, where a black flag flies over them, and they could cost lives.”

Ohana is among the only senior members of Likud to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution in the cases against the premier. Netanyahu appointed him to the Justice Ministry post as a placeholder, after firing the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked last week.

Earlier this year, Ohana struck out at legal authorities over the Netanyahu corruption investigations, claiming that judicial officials, who have announced their intention to charge the prime minister pending a hearing, were usurping the will of the Israeli voters.

Netanyahu is suspected of corruption — including one count of bribery — in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

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