The opposition says the law may shield incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
Israel has ratified a law limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed, despite worries that it may be meant to shield the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
By a 61-to-47 final vote on Thursday, the Knesset approved the bill, under which prime ministers can only be deemed unfit and compelled to step aside if the Knesset or three-quarters of cabinet ministers declare them so on physical or psychological grounds.
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The amended definition for the “incapacity” of the prime minister is among a number of legislative measures proposed by the religious-nationalist coalition that have tipped Israel into crisis, with the opposition arguing that judicial independence is in peril and the coalition claiming the proposals aim to push back against Supreme Court overreach and restore balance among branches of government.
“Declaring the Prime Minister’s incapacity … against the PM’s will, while he is physically and mentally competent to perform his post, serves in practice as an annulment of the election results and democratic process,” the explanatory notes to the proposed amendment to Israel’s quasi-constitutional “Basic Law” read.
The stipulations fleshed out the Basic Law guidance in the event of a non-functioning prime minister, which previously lacked details on circumstances that may give rise to such situations.
According to the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute, the rule had meant that Netanyahu could possibly be declared incapable by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, should she perceive an attempt by him to halt the three court cases against him.
The new law precludes this, IDI senior researcher Amir Fuchs said, adding that he had considered such a finding by Bararav-Miara to be an unlikely “extreme case”.
Baharav-Miara – who was appointed by the former, centrist Israeli government – said last month that Netanyahu must stay out of his coalition’s push for judicial changes because of what she deemed a conflict of interest arising from his trials.
Baharav-Miara’s deputy, Gil Limon, voiced misgivings over the incapacity bill during a Knesset review session on Tuesday.
“What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed,” Limon said, according to an official transcript.
“They have the potential to serve the personal interests of a man regarding the outcomes of legal proceedings he is facing.”
Netanyahu denies all charges against him and has cast the trials as a politicised bid to force him from office.
Meanwhile, Israeli protesters have pressed ahead with weekly demonstrations against the plan by the far-right government to weaken the independence of the judiciary, pushing back against Netanyahu after he rejected a compromise proposal from President Isaac Herzog that was meant to defuse the crisis.
Thousands of Israelis geared up on Thursday for a day of demonstrations, referred to as the “national day of paralysis”, with large crowds expected on the streets of major cities.
The protests aim to disrupt traffic on the main highways leading to Ben Gurion Airport in anticipation of a trip by Netanyahu to the UK. Last week, hundreds of protesters arrived at the airport in an attempt to disrupt Netanyahu’s departure to Germany.
Protests are also planned in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak – where several coalition Knesset members live – raising fears of potential clashes and violence, according to Israeli media.
The drive by Netanyahu’s government to enact sweeping changes to Israel’s courts has sparked domestic uproar and alarm among the country’s Western allies.
If the initial proposal passes, it would mean greater government sway in selecting judges and limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation.