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Netanyahu objects to ‘gag order’ barring him from judicial reform debate

Imposing limitations on the prime minister harms the freedom of expression of millions of citizens, the court filing states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 12, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 12, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed an objection with the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the attorney general’s order forbidding him from taking part in the debate over his government’s judicial reform program.

On Feb. 2, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara ordered Netanyahu to essentially recuse himself from the debate currently roiling the country due to a potential conflict of interest.

She based her directive on a May 2020 Supreme Court ruling that Netanyahu must avoid conflicts of interest pertaining to his ongoing criminal trial.

Netanyahu’s filing on Wednesday stated that the opinion of the attorney general contradicts the resulting 2020 conflict of interest agreement, “while raising theoretical and remote concerns of conflict of interest.”

It said that the final draft of the agreement only prohibited the prime minister from dealing directly with affairs pertaining to judges of the Supreme Court and the Jerusalem District Court. His trial is being held in the latter.

“Imposing limitations on the prime minister, and in particular limitations implied by restrictions on his freedom of expression, actually harms the freedom of expression of millions of citizens who voted for him in democratic elections,” the filing added.

“When the reform already exists and is a major issue on the public agenda, the prime minister cannot be prevented from influencing the scope of the reform and addressing it, even if we were to accept the same distant and theoretical fears of the attorney general,” it said. “It is not for nothing that respected parties who do not support the coalition parties believe that the involvement of the prime minister is necessary.”

President Isaac Herzog, seeking to broker a deal between the sides, requested that the attorney general reconsider and allow Netanyahu to take part in the debate. The attorney general rejected his request.

Netanyahu has previously criticized the ruling, referring to it as a “gag order” and “patently ridiculous.”

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