Netanyahu's Government Pushing Law to Make Investigating a Sitting Prime Minister Illegal

Present version of bill would not apply retroactively to Netanyahu, but by calling new elections, Netanyahu could get around that and protect himself from criminal investigations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Abir Sultan/AP

Israel's ruling coalition is working to pass a law that would bar criminal investigations against a sitting prime minister.

The present version of the bill, which is sponsored by MK David Amsalem (Likud), is not expected to apply retroactively to current corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - unless he calls for new elections after such a bill is passed. Currently the bill states the law would not apply to any investigations opened before the law takes effect. But a new election could be a way to get around that provision.

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The bill is scheduled for discussion next week at the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. It would not apply to violent crimes, sex crimes, and drug and security offenses.

It would also freeze the period of the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes so any investigation could be carried out after the end of a prime minister’s term.

Previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed. Former MK Ronit Tirosh of Kadima sponsored legislation in 2008, when the head of her party and then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was under investigation for corruption. He was later convicted and sent to prison. 

In 2012, when Netanyahu was prime minister, the Knesset blocked another attempt by Tirosh to pass the bill, even though the Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided to give the bill official government backing.

Amsalem’s bill may not have enough votes for a majority in committee. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, a number of whose members criticized Netanyahu’s attacks on the police, has still not decided whether it will support the bill. Kulanu party whip MK Roy Folkman expressed his reservations about the proposed law on Sunday. He said the public was still waiting for reforms in health, welfare and housing, and deserved more than the "legislative acrobatics" by Likud, whose goal, he charged, was to fight the rule of law.