Netanyahu: 'Unthinkable' That Court Decide Whether He Can Serve as PM Under Indictment

Responding to petition asking court to rule on whether indicted politician can form government, prime minister says, ‘In democracy, it’s the people who decide who leads them, no one else’

Netanyahu at a Likud candle lighting ceremony, December 29, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that it was “unthinkable” that the attorney general could decide who could serve as prime minister.

In a letter he sent to the High Court of Justice ahead of a hearing on a petition that asks the court to rule on whether a Knesset member accused of criminal wrongdoing can form a government, Netanyahu wrote: “It is unthinkable that one public official, the attorney general, exalted as he may be, will decide, instead of the public and its representatives in the legislative assembly, who can run the country and who can’t.”

Netanyahu added: “In a democracy, it’s the people who decide who leads them, no one else. Otherwise it’s not a democracy. The petition is an attempt to drag the court into an issue which is not under the court’s purview. The honorable court has no authority in this matter, and the issue should not have been brought before it. It should have been left to the decision of the voters. For this reason alone, the petition must be rejected out of hand.”

Netanyahu referred to the existing law which does not prevent a prime minister from serving while charged with criminal wrongdoing. He wrote that “the legislator was aware of this volatile issue and gave a prime minister special status in an explicit Basic Law which specifies that he can serve until convicted in a final ruling for transgressions that carry with them moral turpitude. The legislator added specifically that a Knesset member can be appointed prime minister even while a court case is being conducted in his matter. There is no reason to deviate from this constitutional principle, outlined in the Basic Law and in an explicit law, only because a specific prime minister is not to the liking of the petitioners.”

Appended to Netanyahu’s letter was a legal opinion by Prof. Ariel Bendor, an expert in constitutional law, who supported the prime minister’s position. Bendor wrote: “The law does not prevent tasking a Knesset member with the formation of a government, even if he has been indicted and even if the alleged transgressions attributed to him come under a list of transgressions which, according to rules of disqualification determined by the Supreme Court, would disqualify other cabinet members and public officials.”

The High Court is expected to rule Tuesday on whether to address this issue. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has said he would not issue his opinion until the court decided whether it would hear or reject the petition. Since indicting Netanyahu, Mendelblit has abstained from publicly expressing his opinion on this matter, calling it a theoretical issue, and clarifying that there was no cause for terminating Netanyahu’s term.