Lawyer of ex-Netanyahu Patron Adelson Slams PM Over Push to Limit High Court

'It's unacceptable to change the entire legal system just because one man has a problem,' says lawyer of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson against PM's legislative plan

File photo: Miriam Adelson (L), Sheldon Adelson (C), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The attorney representing U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his prospective coalition partners on Tuesday for their attempts to curb the powers of Israel's High Court.

The criticism voiced by attorney Avigdor Klagsbald is especially unique in light of the fact that his client is Netanyahu's former patron and the owner of Israeli daily Israel Hayom, which is considered by many in the country to be Netanyahu's mouthpiece.

"It's unacceptable to change the entire legal system just because one man has a problem," Klagsbald said. "It's unacceptable for the Knesset not to be subject to judicial review. Then they could just legislate that we should all be killed – and we couldn't start a petition against it."

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The lawyer was speaking out about the prime minister's plan to advance a far-reaching bill that would allow the Knesset and government ministers to ignore rulings of the High Court of Justice in administrative matters, not just in cases where it strikes down legislation. The proposed law would permit the annulment of a High Court decision to rescind Netanyahu’s immunity, if such a decision is made.

Such legislation would essentially neutralize the Supreme Court in its capacity as the High Court of Justice – something Netanyahu has never publicly supported – by turning its decisions into suggestions instead of legally binding rulings.

According to various reports, the relationship between Netanyahu and Adelson chilled following the exposure of the so-called Case 2000, which revealed an alleged quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that aimed to weaken Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage for Netanyahu and his family.

In their testimony to the police, Adelson and his wife Miriam denied all contact or involvement with the alleged deal between Netanyahu and Mozes. Adelson also expressed his disappointment and anger upon hearing the accusations.

Klagsbald, who previously represented former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, spoke at an emergency conference of lawyers that took place Tuesday in the law offices of Goldfarb Seligman. Using the slogan "They'll have to go through us," dozens of lawyers gathered to oppose the Knesset's attempts to expand its power to override High Court decisions, and against the apparent intention to eliminate judicial review of government and Knesset decisions.

Attorney Eli Zohar described the conference as "a very strong wake-up call." According to Zohar, "the idea that they could put us out to slaughter and we wouldn't have anyone to petition – that is a stronger message than any sanctimonious words. I feel that I have entered into a battle for my home. A battle that is important to my children, grandchildren and every one of us.

"Don't expect us to have a laid out plan right now, we're gathered here to formulate one," he added. "But we are ready for an extreme step – a strike in the courts."