Israel Shelves Bill Blocking Charges Against Sitting Prime Minister

The proposed legislation comes against the backdrop of two pending criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 22, 2017.
Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation deferred a bill on Sunday that would prevent charges being brought against a sitting prime minister for misdemeanors and lesser crimes.

The bill comes against the backdrop of two pending criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The first probe is over allegations that Netanyahu improperly accepted gifts and perks from business figures. The second that he engaged in talks with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, allegedly over the promise that Netanyahu would push for legislation benefiting the newspaper in return for favorable news coverage.

The legislation, proposed by lawmaker David Amsalem (Likud) is a private member’s bill and is not sponsored by the government. Sources on the ministerial committee said the deferral of the vote is designed to pave the way for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) to have a government-sponsored bill drafted that would suspend criminal investigations against sitting prime ministers and would limit prime ministers to a maximum of two terms in office.

Approval by the ministerial committee would signify coalition support for the legislation, at least in some form. Although committee members said the bill sponsored by Amsalem was full of “holes,” he took Shaked to task, saying that the real reason his bill was deferred was so it will not be legislated against the backdrop of “the current investigations.”

Insisting that such legislation should be introduced by Likud as the largest member of the coalition government rather than by its Habayit Hayehudi coalition partner, he said he would meet with all of the parties in the coalition to come to a consensus on the bill. 

Amsalem’s bill would amend the Basic Law on the Government, which has constitutional status. The bill would only allow the attorney general to approve a criminal interrogation of a sitting prime minister for sexual offenses, violent acts or security offenses or if deferring the investigation could cause substantial damage to the country’s security or substantial economic harm. The period during which the prime minister is in office would not count towards the running of the statute of limitations and the investigation could proceed once the prime minister leaves office.