Likud MK Michal Shir on Friday joined Gideon Sa’ar and became the second lawmaker from the ruling party to openly criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to pass new legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution while in office. Existing law already provides for all MKs to seek immunity from prosecution, but Netanyahu, who is facing indictment in three cases, is reported to be planning fresh legislation to ease the process and possibly to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning it.
“I support the prime minister, but at the same time I think that passing personal legislation is both wrong and unnecessary,” she posted on Twitter.
Shir wrote that to mark Friday’s anniversary of the May 17, 1977 first-ever election victory by the Likud party, led by Menachem Begin, she listened to the speech Begin made in 1948 at the founding of the state in which he declared that “justice shall be the supreme ruler” in Israel and told Israel’s politicians they were “servants of the nation and not their overlords.”
“His remarks are more relevant than ever,” Shir said. “The Likud is a democratic party, contrary to claims by those who criticize us. A multitude of opinions is not a disadvantage, it’s an advantage.”
Netanyahu has reportedly been working to advance a bill that would allow him to avoid prosecution in three cases in which he is facing indictments, including one involving bribery accusations.
A long-time political adviser to Sa’ar, Shir beat out Netanyahu’s former bureau chief David Sharan in the Likud primaries for the regional Tel Aviv spot, in a race that was seen as a mini face-off between the prime minister and his apparent challenger.
Shir’s criticism of the legislation came a day after her former boss, Sa’ar, ignited a storm by coming out against Netanyahu’s reported plan to pursue legislative immunity.
On Thursday, Sa’ar warned in a Channel 12 interview that Netanyahu’s legislation “offers zero benefit and causes maximum damage.”
Sa’ar, who has butted heads with Netanyahu in the past and recently returned to politics to the prime minister’s chagrin, was slammed by other Likud MKs for breaking ranks with the party.
Fellow Likud MK and Netanyahu confidant David Amsalem publicly castigated him on Twitter, while unnamed party sources alleged to Hebrew-language media outlets that Sa’ar was actively trying to undermine the prime minister.
The immunity bill has become a lightning rod for divisions between the likely coalition and opposition as Netanyahu has struggled to put together a new government after elections last month.
Jurists, legal scholars and critics of the prime minister have warned such a measure and wider legislative reforms said to be mooted would place Netanyahu above the law and could also remove important checks on the Knesset from the High Court.
The bill’s backers say the measure is necessary to keep the prime minister from having to deal with frivolous or politicized legal cases while trying to manage the country, and have blasted the Supreme Court as an undemocratic bastion of leftist activism.
Netanyahu indicated at several points while campaigning that he would not actively pursue legislation to grant him immunity.
Nonetheless, reports on Wednesday and Thursday indicated that he had decided to push ahead with the bid.
Israeli law allows a prime minister to remain in office until he or she is convicted by a court of a crime classified as bearing moral turpitude, and only when all appeals have been exhausted.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them.
The prime minister denies the allegations and has insisted the investigations are part of efforts by the media and the Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team overseen by a “weak” attorney general.