Justices Dismiss Arguments for Blocking Netanyahu's PM Bid Over Indictment Before Election

High Court petition irrelevant at this point, justices say, as attorney general's representative decries 'attempt to drag the legal system into the political system'

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (R) and Justice Hanan Melcer entering the courtroom, Jerusalem, December 31, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

High Court justices dismissed on Tuesday arguments made in a petition seeking to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming another government after a March election due to pending indictments against him, saying it was irrelevant to discuss such an option ahead of the actual vote.  

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said there were no legal impediments barring Netanyahu from seeking reelection. Justice Uzi Vogelman said it would be unprecedented to rule on such an issue  before the nation's president issues a mandate to form a government.

The petition asked the court to rule that Netanyahu could not be asked to form the next government, given that he faces indictments for bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases.

In a brief submitted to court last week, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit argued that the petition should be rejected on the grounds that the issue is theoretical and would remain so until the results of the March 2 election are announced.

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

Mendelblit said that if the court does decide to consider the issue, it ought to do so with an expanded bench of nine justices. The petition is now being heard by a panel of three justices.

Mendelblit's representative in Tuesday’s session, Aner Helman, said that the "attorney general shouldn't fall into every trap set before him. There is an attempt to drag the legal system into the political system, it's a minefield, which one enters only when they have no choice."

Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin said at a conference organized by the Israeli business newspaper Calcalist that "democracy represents the will of the people, but the people should want what is right. Public servants should be protected from the possibility of being overthrown against the people's will.”

Netanyahu’s brief to the court argued that the issue isn’t justiciable, meaning the court would not have the authority to rule on it even if he should be tasked with forming a government after March’s election.

The petition was submitted by 67 academics, former defense officials and cultural figures in response to Mendelblit’s decision to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. It asked the court to rule that no Knesset member charged with a crime of moral turpitude can be asked to try to form a government, even if a majority of MKs support him as prime minister.

On Thursday, Mendelblit said he would not give his opinion on whether Netanyahu can be asked to form a government until the High Court decides whether to discuss the issue in depth or reject the petition out of hand. He has ruled that there is no justification for forcing Netanyahu to resign from his post as prime minister, but has consistently avoided weighing in on whether Netanyahu could be asked to form a new government following March’s election.

In his response to the petition, Netanyahu argued that it was inconceivable for the attorney general to decide who may serve as prime minister instead of the voters.

“It’s unacceptable for a single civil servant, the attorney general, however high his position, to decide in place of the general public and its representatives in the legislature who may run the country and who may not,” his brief said.

“In a democracy, the ones who decide who will lead the people are the people, and no one else,” it continued. “Otherwise, it simply isn’t a democracy.

“The petition is an attempt to drag the court into an issue that isn’t even justiciable, that isn’t even within this respected court’s authority and shouldn’t even arrive on this respected court’s doorstep, but should be decided solely by the electorate. For this reason alone, the petition should be rejected out of hand.”