Editorial |

Israel Must Not Grant the Prime Minister Immunity From Corruption Investigations

If passed, the bill would undermine the rule of law and foundations of government, and turn the Prime Minister’s Office into a haven for suspected criminals

Haaretz Editorial
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, October 9, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, October 9, 2017.Credit: Yonatan Sindel
Haaretz Editorial

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked acted correctly in declining to bring to a vote the bill that would prohibit a sitting prime minister from being investigated on matters of corruption in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. A vote should not be taken in haste, without being preceded by thorough discussion, on a bill that could fundamentally change the rule of law in Israel.

Contrary to coalition chairman David Bitan’s accusations that Shaked is “driving a spoke into the wheels of the coalition,” Shaked was actually properly adhering to the coalition agreements, which require the agreement of all coalition factions for the submission of amendments to a Basic Law (MK David Amsalem’s bill is an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government).

However, even if Amsalem, who is acting at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the other Likud members manage to overcome the technical issues and bring the bill before the committee for approval, the parties in the coalition must not vote in favor of the legislation. This is a dangerous bill, and the damage it would cause would undermine the foundations of the government and whatever remains of the ethos of the rule of law.

Granting the prime minister immunity from criminal investigation during his tenure (with the exception of suspected sex offenses, violent offense, drug offenses or security offenses) would turn the Prime Minister’s Office into a haven for suspected criminals.

It is unthinkable that, if the suspicions are of corruption, the public will have to wait until the prime minister is no longer serving before the attorney general, and then the courts, can determine whether this person is a criminal who belongs in prison.

When suspicion arises against a prime minister, postponing a criminal investigation until after his tenure is also impossible from a practical standpoint. An effective investigation has to be done in real time, and not take the form of an archaeological dig when the evidence and witnesses have already scattered and any type of obstruction that could have been done has been done.

More importantly, such legislation would smash the basic principle of a democracy, of equality before the law. This principle mandates that in a criminal matter, no one is above the law.

The public message that passage of this law would send is that personal and systemic corruption among the country’s political leadership is a permitted norm. The public would conclude that if the person at the top can take bribes, engage in nepotism, misuse public funds and harm the public interest – then this same behavior must be okay at all levels of government, on the national and municipal level.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must make it absolutely clear that such a bill, even as an amendment to a Basic Law – is unconstitutional, and not leave the hard work to the High Court as usual.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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