‘Netanyahu-shielding’ police recommendations bill clears first vote

Proposed legislation banning cops from informing prosecutor whether charges are justified inches ahead after stormy debate; coalition MKs Begin and Azaria skip out in protest

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK David Amsalem, at a Knesset plenary session, on November 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem, at a Knesset plenary session, on November 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Lawmakers on Monday advanced a contested bill that would restrict police from recommending criminal charges in the Knesset plenary, after hours of heated debate.

The bill by Likud MK David Amsalem has widely been seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the public fallout, should police find sufficient evidence against him in two ongoing corruption probes to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.

The proposed legislation cleared its first reading with 46 lawmakers in favor, 37 opposed. Coalition lawmakers Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) and Benny Begin (Likud) skipped the vote in protest. Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Public Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan were also not present.

Likud MK Benny Begin (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defending the bill, Amsalem said it was designed to protect the some 14,000 Israelis who are investigated by police each year, but against whom no charges are ultimately brought by the prosecution.

“Eighty percent of the cases in which the police decide to write a recommendation saying there is an evidentiary basis [to press charges] are closed by the prosecution,” said Amsalem. “What happens on the way? The man’s entire life is ruined because he’s already [considered] guilty.”

Knesset member Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Opposition lawmakers retorted that the bill was designed merely to cover for Netanyahu.

“A prime minister who is clean should say ‘go ahead and publish,'” said Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni. “He always says ‘there will be nothing, because there isn’t anything,’ but there is a lot. Not everyone is corrupt, but those who protect corruption become corrupt themselves.”

Following the vote, the proposal was sent back to Amsalem’s Internal Affairs Committee for revisions ahead of its second and third readings, which would pass it into law.

Coalition Chairman David Bitan (R) at a Knesset plenary session, on November 27, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid vowed during the debate that he would challenge the law in court.

“If this law passes, Yesh Atid will petition the High Court,” he said.

The revised bill, approved by a Knesset panel earlier on Monday, bans police who are wrapping up investigations from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment, as well as publicizing information or leaking their conclusions to the media.

A last-minute change inserted in the legislation would permit the attorney general to seek police input into the existing corruption probes into Netanyahu, though, critically, he and police would be banned from publicizing those recommendations.

The legislation would also throw investigators who do leak information into prison for a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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. The prime minister denies all the charges against him.

In the committee meeting earlier, the coalition Kulanu party voted in favor of the bill after two revisions were inserted into the legislation, one of which was the one that would allow police recommendations to be made in the Netanyahu investigations, though not to be published.

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