Israeli Attorney General Opposes Bill Barring Police From Probing Sitting Prime Ministers

Avichai Mandelblit's objection is based on legal grounds as well as the timing of the bill.

Avichai Mandelblit speaking at the ceremony in Jerusalem to replace Yehuda Weinstein as attorney general, February 1, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed opposition to a bill that would bar the police from investigating a sitting prime minister, Haaretz learned on Thursday. Mandelblit's objection is based on legal grounds as well as the timing of the bill.

The bill, put forward by lawmaker David Amsalem (Likud), stipulates that the police will not investigate a sitting prime minister for crimes with a maximum penalty of six months or less. Amsalem proposed that if his bill is signed into law it would only take effect after the next election, and will not affect open investigations against Netanyahu. "In the past thirty years, no [Israeli] prime minister was free from involvement in [police] investigations," Amsalem explained on his Facebook page, in a post announcing his bill. "The prime minister is Israel's most important position. He must make fateful decisions affecting the whole public: Diplomatic, security, economic, and social action. He can't be held up nearly every day with investigations."

In the beginning of the week the Ministerial Committee on Legislation shelved the bill until an agreement is reached between all members of the coalition. This took place after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that she intends to promote a bill on this matter on behalf of the government. Shaked wants to limit the prime minister's term to eight years and bar bringing prime ministers up on charges for misdemeanors, which have a maximum penalty of up to three years. This includes corruption charges such as breach of trust and fraud. Bribery is not a misdemeanor, and therefore it would not fall under the purview of the law.

That being said, the timing of the bill will probably be seen as problematic in the Justice Ministry. After announcing the move, Shaked said that "an eight year term on the one hand allows for enough time to make real changes and implement policy and on the other hand continuing a premiership beyond this period does not strengthen the health of the democracy. That being said, during a prime minister's term government stability is valuable."

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel opposed Shaked's move, saying: "The movement agrees that the situation in which senior public officials are under investigation is problematic, but that the preferred solution for this is the promotion of the rule of law among public servants, and the demand that government positions of the highest levels be filled by quality people with a spotless record – not by lowering the bar by turning a blind eye to criminal activity done by the head of state."