Knesset Holds Special Session to Push Controversial Bill That Would Silence Police

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 13, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 13, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee is holding a special session on Thursday in an effort to prepare a draft of a bill that would bar police from issuing recommendations to the prosecutor’s office on indictments of public officials.

The session comes in advance of the two final votes by the Knesset on the bill, which is seen as protecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently the subject of two police investigations.

One of the cases involves suspicions of illegal conduct in connection with gifts that the Netanyahu family received from high-profile businessmen.

The other involves alleged conversations between the prime minister and the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon Mozes, that purportedly involved discussions of promises of favorable government policy changes for Yedioth in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister in the newspaper.

Other than the bill’s sponsor, Likud Knesset member David Amsalem, no committee members from the government coalition attended Thursday’s session. It was attended, however, by members of the opposition who expressed opposition to the legislation.

Meretz Knesset member Tamar Zandberg called the proposed legislation “contemptible and corrupt with contemptible and corrupt timing designed to protect a contemptible and corrupt prime minister.”

“Without leaks from [police] investigations, freedom of the press doesn’t exist. The information doesn’t belong to the coalition or the police or to those being investigated. The information belongs to the public, which is entitled to know, particularly when it comes to its elected officials,” she said.

Zionist Union Knesset member Nachman Shai said wryly that he believes the prime minister when he says that there is no evidence against him. “So he doesn’t need this law.”

Voting on the bill, which has been scheduled for next Monday, may be deferred by a week because about 20 coalition Knesset members will be out of the country next week. Some are attending the Saban Forum Middle East policy conference in the United States. Others were not informed of the vote and were not planning on being at the Knesset on Monday.

The opposition has barred its Knesset members from leaving the country for the next two weeks, and under the circumstances, the coalition may have difficulty garnering a majority in support for the bill.

Coalition chairman David Bitan has informed Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that the prime minister and Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz will not participate in the Knesset vote on the bill due to pending investigations against them.

The coalition is in a race against time to pass the bill before the police submit their recommendations in the two investigations against the prime minister.

The government’s goal is to have the bill take effect prior to the submission of the recommendations, which would effectively stop them from being submitted. If and when the Knesset passes the legislation, before it takes effect, it must be signed by the president and published in the official gazette no later than ten days after passage.

If the bill takes effect in its present form, the police would only be able to submit a written recommendation on the filing of charges in criminal investigations of public officials if the attorney general requests it, and even then, the recommendation would not be made public. The bill would not, however, bar police investigators from expressing a stance on an investigation orally either to the prosecutor’s office or the media.

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