The government voted Sunday to support a bill that would prevent police from investigating a serving prime minister for suspected wrongdoings committed before assuming the position of prime minister.
All of the ministers present, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, supported the bill. The ministers agreed that the bill would only be advanced in the Knesset with the coordination of the Justice Ministry.
If the bill is passed by the Knesset, it would not affect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his current term, but would only take effect after the next round of Knesset elections are held. The bill would not apply to serious crimes such as rape and murder.
Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, who proposed the bill, said , "I commend the government for approving the law. This is an earthquake in the nature of governance in Israel, which will strengthen the next prime minister, and consequently the governance in Israel in general."
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich protested the government's decision to support the bill. "The decision by the Ministerial Committee to support the law that would rule out investigations of a sitting prime minister is a miserable decision that damages the foundations of equality before the law," said Yachimovich.
"This decision gives a green light to politicians to commit acts of corruption and be protected from investigation. The integrity of public officials is a basic condition of their position, and not only are they not immune from the law, but they must be examples of respecting the law," added Yachimovich.
"The decision undermines this important principle of democracy," she said.
Claims of a political witch-hunt
That the new bill was proposed by a member of the Kadima party did not arouse surprise, as Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, two prime ministers that served as members of Kadima, were under investigation by police for extensive periods of time during their respective terms in office.
Those investigations drew a great deal of those prime ministers' attention and time, as they could not wholly deal with state affairs and focus on their ongoing investigations at the same time.
Some of those investigations eventually ended with the closing of the file and no charges being files against the prime minister, and it had been claimed numerous times that the investigations were instigated as unnecessary political witch-hunts meant to impede the prime minister and make his job more difficult.
Another problem concerning the investigation of sitting prime ministers arose when opponents of the Gaza Disengagement contended that Prime Minister Sharon proposed the controversial and unprecedented plan only in order to draw the public's attention away from ongoing investigations of his own activities.
Some of the cases against Sharon are still pending, though he lies in a coma. Olmert has since been indicted in three separate corruption affairs, and his trial is currently ongoing.
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