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Netanyahu given week to rebut claim he violated conflict of interest deal

The High Court acted on a petition accusing the prime minister of an illegal act for speaking publicly on judicial reform.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.

Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu one week on Sunday to respond to a petition alleging that he violated a conflict of interest agreement in a March 23 speech he delivered on judicial reform.

The Jerusalem-based left-wing Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed the petition on Sunday, asking that the court punish Netanyahu with prison time or fines for the televised address to the nation.

“A prime minister who doesn’t obey the court and the provisions of the law is privileged and an anarchist. The prime minister will be forced to bow his head before the law and comply with the provisions of the law,” said Eliad Shraga, the head of the Movement for Quality Government, which leads the protest movement against the coalition’s legislative push to limit the powers of the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana must also respond to the petition by April 2, according to the ruling by Supreme Court president Esther Hayut.

Baharav-Miara on Friday characterized as “completely illegal” Netanyahu’s wading into efforts to reform the judiciary, claiming his doing so violates the conflict of interest agreement allowing him to govern while his trial on corruption charges is ongoing.

“In your speech last night, you referred to proposals regarding the judicial system, and in particular to the composition of the committee for the appointment of judges, and announced that you are now directly involved in these initiatives,” Baharav-Miara wrote in a letter to Netanyahu.

“In doing so, you violated the ruling of the Supreme Court that a prime minister accused of crimes must refrain from actions giving rise to reasonable fear of a conflict of interest between your personal interests relating to the proceedings and your role as premier. Your statement last night and any further actions by you that violate that agreement are completely illegal,” she said.

The 2020 agreement prevents Netanyahu from making senior law-enforcement and judicial appointments or involving himself in associated legislative processes that could influence the outcome of his ongoing trial. However, last Thursday the Knesset passed a law barring the Supreme Court from declaring a sitting premier unfit to serve and thus forcing him to take a leave of absence.

That night, Netanyahu addressed the nation amid mass civil disobedience aimed at thwarting the judicial reforms, saying that he will intervene to make them more balanced but adding that a law changing the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee will be passed this week as planned.

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