Following days of heated debate over a controversial bill that would bar police from recommending indictment in corruption investigations against public figures, the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss an amended version of the legislation that excluded the current probes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The so-called police recommendations bill, sponsored by Likud MK David Amsalem, has widely been seen as an attempt by lawmakers to shield Netanyahu, who is under investigation in two cases, from public fallout should police find sufficient evidence against him to warrant criminal charges.
The pair of investigations against Netanyahu, known as cases 1000 and 2000, involve suspicions he received gifts from Israeli businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests and sought to make a quid-pro-quo deal with a newspaper editor for better coverage, respectively. He denies the allegations against him.
The bill would bar police investigators from informing the State Prosecution whether they believe there are grounds for indictment, and from publicizing information or leaking conclusions to the media.
Amid mounting opposition, Netanyahu said late last week that the legislation was “appropriate and necessary,” but that in order to avoid the appearance that it was tailored to protect him from public fallout in his own corruption probes, it would be amended so as not to apply to him.
Convening the committee Tuesday, Amsalem said he had acceded to Netanyahu’s request to exclude ongoing investigations from the bill, but future investigations into the prime minister would be affected by the legislation if it becomes law.
The revised bill would allow prosecutors to ask police for their recommendation “if it is necessary in order to make a decision on an indictment,” but would prohibit the recommendation from being publicized.
The new version also includes increased punishments for leaking those police recommendations, imposing a three-year prison sentence on officers found to have given information to the press.
Presenting the latest version of the bill to the committee, Amsalem again rejected suggestions from opposition lawmakers that the bill is an attempt to protect Netanyahu.
“That is a vicious lie,” he said. “This is a matter of human rights for all Israelis. There are thousands of people who are falsely accused by the police. This will stop that.”
Likud MK Amir Ohana said that while he had supported the original bill, “there is no reason whatsoever that anyone should oppose this new version.”
Opposition MKs disagreed.
Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin said that the bill was a “barefaced attack on the police.”
“This bill will still put pressure on the police in the investigations against the prime minister,” Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir charged.
“The bill is dangerous and unnecessary and I am sure that even those purporting to back it are embarrassed,” she shouted before being removed from the debate for interrupting Amsalem.
The latest legislative maneuvering comes after a large anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night calling on Netanyahu to resign. It was one of the largest demonstrations yet against Netanyahu’s lengthy tenure.
The bill faces hurdle as one of its main backers, coalition whip MK David Bitan, is now a key suspect in a massive corruption and organized crime investigation in the Rishon Lezion municipality, a yearlong probe that became public on Sunday with a wave of arrests of city officials.
On Tuesday Bitan’s wife, Hagit Bitan, was named as one of the suspects whom police arrested and interrogated earlier in the week in connection with the case.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.