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Netanyahu not in contempt of court, High Court rules

The Movement for Quality Government says the prime minister violated a conflict of interest agreement by addressing judicial reform.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Knesset debate initiated by the opposition, May 1, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Knesset debate initiated by the opposition, May 1, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a request to hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in contempt for allegedly violating the terms of an agreement stipulating that he not interfere in judicial reform legislation.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the court in March, asking it to sanction Netanyahu with prison time or fines for a March 23 televised address in which he said he would no longer stand on the sidelines of the debate on judicial reform under a “gag order” imposed upon him by the attorney general.

A 2020 conflict of interest agreement prevents Netanyahu from making senior judicial appointments that could influence the outcome of his ongoing criminal trial.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara last month said that Netanyahu was not in contempt of court when he allegedly violated the conflict of interest arrangement.

Baharav-Miara said that while she believed the prime minister violated the law, the conditions for holding him in contempt of court had not been met. The High Court on Monday adopted her position in its ruling. The court also clarified that the position of the attorney general is binding unless the court rules otherwise.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Netanyahu responded to the petition last month, telling the court through his lawyers that he must be involved in the issue of judicial reform as the matter has convulsed the nation and risen to the level of a national crisis.

“Every sane person understands that in a national crisis that has internal and external consequences for the State of Israel, the prime minister is obligated to act in the interest of the people to try to bring about as broad a national consensus as possible to prevent violence and to ensure law and order and the day-to-day functioning of the state, its security and economic stability, and to maintain the state’s foreign relations,” Netanyahu said.

“With all due respect to any conflict of interest arrangement, when there is an issue that the president of the country announces that he believes may lead to a civil war; when the president of the United States and world leaders express a position on an issue and discuss it with the prime minister; when the issue affects the security of the country and its economy, the prime minister must, by virtue of his position, manage the issue and be involved in it, and this has nothing to do with his personal affairs,” he added.

“This is the meaning of the role of the prime minister, and this is the meaning of the election of the citizens of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

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