High Court Rejects Petition Seeking to Bar Netanyahu From Forming Gov't

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut says there are no legal impediments preventing Netanyahu from seeking reelection

High Court Justices Vogelman, Hayut and Melcer, December 29, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel's High Court denied a petition Thursday to bar a candidate facing criminal charges from forming a government, following the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases.

On Tuesday, before issuing an official ruling, the justices said it was irrelevant to discuss barring Netanyahu from receiving the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin before the March election takes place.

The petition was submitted by 67 academics, former defense officials and cultural figures in response to Attorney General Avichai 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.

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 coalition.

In a brief submitted to court last week, 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.

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 was heard by a panel of three justices.

On Thursday, Mendelblit said he would not give his opinion on the matter until the High Court decides whether to discuss it 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 the premier could be tasked with building 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.”