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Top court rules no grounds to disqualify Netanyahu as PM ‘at this time’

While noting ‘difficulty’ in premier being a criminal defendant, justices say there is no current indication Netanyahu can’t fulfill his role

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a petition seeking Benjamin Netanyahu’s removal as prime minister over his ongoing criminal trial.

In their ruling, the justices wrote they found no grounds to make such an intervention at the moment, though they said there “exists a difficulty” in the fact that a prime minister is accused of “grave crimes,” both in terms of “his ability to devote his full time and energy to his role and in terms of the harm to public trust.”

The judges left the door open to potentially disqualifying Netanyahu at a later stage, but concurred with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s opinion that there are currently no grounds to rule Netanyahu cannot fulfill his duty.

“There is no reason to intervene at this time,” they said.

Illustrative: A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The court rejected the claim of the petitioner, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, that Netanyahu was “physically, functionally and fundamentally” unable to fulfill his role due to the need to appear for hearings, and because he devotes time to his criminal trial even when he’s not required to sit on the defendant’s bench at the Jerusalem District Court.

The justices noted that even though hearings in the evidentiary stage of Netanyahu’s trial are being held three times a week, the prime minister has been exempt from attending since appearing for the prosecution’s opening statements earlier this month.

Concerning the other claims, the High Court said there was no sufficient evidentiary basis to require Netanyahu to step down and that they accepted Netanyahu’s word that he is not violating a conflict of interest agreement he consented to that bars him from being personally involved in judicial and law enforcement appointments.

The Movement for Quality Government said it respected the decision, which it called a “penalty card” to Netanyahu, using a term from the sports world.

Netanyahu is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two others. He denies the allegations and claims the charges were fabricated by police and state prosecutors, conspiring with his left-wing political opponents and the media to oust him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits at a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem District Court, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

In a separate ruling Thursday, the court ordered the government to explain why a number of ministerial posts remain unfilled, including justice minister, which Israel has been without since Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s maximmum three-month term as acting minister expired this month

The court has recently issued several decisions regarding Netanyahu’s fitness to serve due to the corruption charges against him, including a ruling Sunday rejecting a petition that sought to bar him from forming a government following the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years.

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