New Hope submits bill barring person under indictment from serving as PM

MK Michal Shir says legislation, widely seen as targeting Netanyahu, will ‘rectify absurd situation’ in which indicted individual can lead country

Head of the New Hope party Gideon Saar, leads a faction meeting, at the Knesset on May 31, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the New Hope party Gideon Saar, leads a faction meeting, at the Knesset on May 31, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Members of Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party said Tuesday they had submitted a proposal for a bill that would prevent a person indicted on criminal charges from serving as prime minister.

MK Michal Shir said she submitted the private member’s bill “to rectify the absurd situation” in which an indicted individual can serve as prime minister while being barred from holding other public offices. As things stand, criminal defendants cannot serve as ministers but can serve as PM. Shir denied that the legislation was personally targeted against Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.

The far-reaching proposed bill spearheaded by Shir states that if an individual is indicted while serving as prime minister, they must resign within 30 days.

“It’s not a personal law at all. It is not targeting one person. It is a law to stop an individual’s personal considerations coming into the decision-making process,” Shir told Channel 12 news.

According to the broadcaster, the proposed legislation has the support of all members of the New Hope parliamentary faction.

It was assumed that the bill submitted by New Hope was an attempt to pressure Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party to support a future, less extreme version of the legislation.

Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)

Some in Bennett’s party were already believed to be uneasy about a bill that Sa’ar said last month he was preparing, “according to which the president will not task an individual accused of criminal wrongdoing with forming a government.”

The Yamina lawmakers feel it will be seen as personally targeting Netanyahu because it would bar him from returning to power — a move that would not sit well with right-wing voters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court on February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOLFlash90)

Channel 13 reported that Bennett supports the New Hope leader’s proposal, but Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has voiced her opposition to it.

Last month, when asked by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper if the matter of the bill had been coordinated with Bennett, Sa’ar said: “I wouldn’t start this process without coordinating with the prime minister.”

He added: “We’ve seen that leadership of the country by a person under indictment creates a preference for personal interests over the good of the country… So it is clear the nation should not be put in such a position again.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Unnamed government officials told Ynet that any such bill would need to be agreed upon by all sides in the coalition, stressing that no promises had been made to Sa’ar that the bill will advance.

Israeli law forbids criminal defendants from serving as ministers but not as prime minister. Since Netanyahu was indicted in three criminal cases, there has been ongoing talk by his rivals of legislating to prevent an indicted person from leading the country.

Netanyahu, the first sitting prime minister to be indicted, is accused of fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He denies wrongdoing and has claimed without evidence the charges were fabricated by the media, political rivals, prosecutors and law enforcement to replace him as prime minister. His trial is ongoing.

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