Netanyahu Rival's Party Defies Government, Files Petition Against New Law That Muzzles Israel Police

Day after controversial bill was enacted, opposition party and two other petitioners take battle against controversial law to High Court of Justice

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in the Knesset, December 27, 2017.
Olivier Fitouss

Three separate organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice on Thursday against the newly passed law that prevents the police revealing whether there is sufficient evidence to indict at the end of an investigation.

MK Karin Elharrar filed a petition on behalf of her Yesh Atid party, while the Movement for Ethical Practices and the Movement for Quality Government filed separate petitions against the controversial law, which passed its third and final Knesset reading on Wednesday night.

“Yesh Atid is petitioning the ‘recommendations law’ – one of the most corrupt laws the [governing] coalition has passed,” Elharrar said upon entering the court. “It is a law born in sin, a personal law whose entire goal is to protect the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] from his investigations, and its whole purpose is to intimidate the police and prosecution.”

The Movement for Quality Government stated that it filed its petition because of “the coalition members’ abuse of legislative power to pass a law in bad faith, which is inappropriate in a manner that undermines the legislative authority and cheapens Israeli law.”

The petition maintained that the law’s wording is unclear and that it is also unclear how it will be implemented.

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid announced during the Knesset proceedings earlier this week that his party would file a petition if the law passed. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein responded that if the opposition were to turn to the High Court, he would force abbreviated debates in the Knesset plenum in the future.

The petition does not prevent the coalition from activating a Knesset rule that will allow it, in exceptional circumstances, to force debate procedures onto the opposition parties. Activating the rule means the coalition can significantly cut down debate time to a matter of hours by drastically reducing the amount of time allowed for speeches (which is usually five minutes per objection).

The opposition is planning to filibuster the so-called supermarkets bill next week.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attacked Lapid over the planned petition. “You are humiliating the Knesset and voiding it of content,” Shaked said before the voting started. “I am ashamed that after three days of debates and endless objections, you are turning to the High Court.”

After a 43-hour filibuster, the bill was ultimately voted in by a majority of 59 to 54. The vote itself took three hours, including votes on 309 objections filed by the opposition.

The final version of the bill submitted to lawmakers sets three basic principles. First, it anchors the protocols that the police have been following for the last 15 years, which prohibit investigators from recommending suspects be indicted. Instead, it instructs investigators to create a document stating whether there is sufficient evidence that the suspects violated the law.

Second, in investigations that include an accompanying lawyer – usually those involving public officials or crime organizations – the police will not be permitted to automatically transfer this document to state prosecutors (this will be done only at the request of the attorney general or the state prosecutor). The legislation does not prohibit an oral exchange of information in discussions between investigators and lawyers. In other investigations, the police will be required to transfer the document to the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Third, the new legislation will allow the attorney general to determine which officials in the Israel Police and State Prosecutor’s Office are authorized to release the document – which explains the evidence underlying the recommendations – to the public.

Unauthorized investigators or lawyers who leak the materials could be subject to a three-year prison sentence, a clause that already existed in the statute books.

The attorney general will publish his directives on the matter within three months.