Israeli Justice Minister Assailed for Holding Up Bill Barring Investigation of Sitting Prime Minister

Coalition whip David Bitan accuses Ayelet Shaked of hurting coalition by not letting committee discuss bill to bar criminal investigations of sitting prime ministers

Coalition Whip David Bitan, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a rally to support the prime minister in Tel Aviv, August 10, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Coalition whip David Bitan accused Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of “putting spokes in the wheels” of the governing coalition on Sunday, due to her decision not to let the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which she chairs, discuss a bill to bar criminal investigations of sitting prime ministers.

Later, Bitan also accused ministers Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett of holding up legislation.

Following his outburst, the committee took the unusual step of deciding not to vote on any of the bills sponsored by individual coalition MKs that had been on the meeting’s agenda. Bitan said this was done at his request, to pressure Shaked to keep her promise to vote on the investigations bill next Sunday, and that he intends to prevent the passage of any private member’s bills until that vote should take place.

The panel therefore voted only on government bills and bills by opposition MKs. All the latter were rejected, meaning the committee decided that the coalition won’t support them when they come up for a vote in the Knesset.

One controversial bill that wasn’t discussed due to the decision not to vote on coalition MKs’ bills would in theory allow Israelis to return to four West Bank settlements that were dismantled during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip. But coalition sources said that bill wasn’t ready for a vote anyway because it still includes language that would also allow settlers to return to Gaza. among other issues.

Shaked announced on Saturday night that she wouldn’t allow a vote on the bill to prevent probes of sitting prime ministers, because coalition parties needed more time to study the latest version of it and formulate their positions.

Earlier that weekend, the bill’s sponsor, MK David Amsalem (Likud), had made several changes to it, including adding an unrelated provision on term limits that would bar any prime minister from serving more than two consecutive full terms. This provision was added because Shaked had said she would probably support the bill if also limited their time in office.

But the new provision wouldn’t bar Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running for another term, since neither of his previous governments lasted a full four years.

The bill would freeze investigations against sitting prime ministers for all crimes except sexual offenses, crimes of violence, national security crimes and drug offenses. It would also freeze the statute of limitations, so that suspected crimes could still be investigated after the end of a premier's term.

It would not save Netanyahu from the current criminal probes against him, however, since it won’t apply to cases begun before the bill's enactment.

Bitan railed at Shaked: “This bill was submitted five months ago. Now, she wants another week. Where were you until now?”

But he said he believes it will ultimately pass despite the delays.

Bitan acknowledged that term limits made sense, so prime ministers can’t evade investigation “for 20 years.” Nevertheless, he added, “this should be done in a separate bill. It can’t appear in this bill; it’s completely inappropriate.”