A prominent lawyer on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal defense team has said he will stop representing the premier in his corruption trial unless the government halts its planned overhaul of the judicial system
According to Hebrew media reports, Boaz Ben Zur spoke with Netanyahu Monday morning. It was not clear how the prime minister responded.
The reported ultimatum followed Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday night after the latter gave a speech calling for a pause of the judicial overhaul, sparking mass protests overnight and further fueling the opposition to the far-reaching proposals for changing the judiciary.
Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup, led by the police and state prosecution.
Ben Zur is representing Netanyahu in Case 4000, considered the most serious of the three cases. Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Shaul Elovitch, who was also the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from Communication Ministry officials. In exchange, he allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site.
In December, Ben Zur slammed comments by Netanyahu’s son Yair that appeared to suggest prosecutors should be executed, saying he “completely rejected” them. “Criticism needs to be of actions, not people,” he said at the time.
Ben Zur’s reported warning to Netanyahu also came as the High Court of Justice is due to hear a petition alleging the prime minister violated a conflict of interest arrangement barring him from being involved in the judicial shakeup due to his graft trial. Responding Sunday to the suit, a lawyer for Netanyahu argued the court has no authority to hear the matter, while claiming the petition was an attempt to “carry out a coup.”
The petition was filed after Netanyahu declared Thursday that he was unshackled by the conflict of interest arrangement after the Knesset passed a law making it harder to remove a sitting prime minister, and vowed to wade into the crisis and “mend the rift” in the nation. That declaration prompted Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to warn that Netanyahu was breaking his conflict of interest agreement by entering the fray.
The planned overhaul will give the government control over who becomes a judge and limit judicial review over government decisions and legislation. Netanyahu and his allies say the plan will restore a balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.
Critics say the plan upends Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances and pushes the country down a path toward autocracy.
The government has pledged to pass a key part of the overhaul this week before parliament takes a month recess, but pressure has been building on Netanyahu to suspend the plan.