Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, responding to a Supreme Court petition, on Sunday told 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.
On March 26, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut ruled that Netanyahu must respond to a petition filed by the Jerusalem-based Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG) within one week, by April 2.
The MQG petition demanded that the court punish 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 judicial reform under a “gag order” imposed upon him by the attorney general.
The petition followed a March 24 letter from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to the prime minister, saying he had violated a conflict of interest agreement by wading into efforts to reform the judiciary.
“Last night you publicly announced that you intend to violate the ruling of the Supreme Court and act contrary to the opinion of the attorney general,” Baharav-Miara wrote. She characterized his remarks as “illegal and contaminated by a conflict of interest.”
A 2020 conflict of interest agreement prevents Netanyahu from making senior judicial appointments that could influence the outcome of his ongoing trial.
However, Netanyahu said that the 2020 “ruling did not prohibit the prime minister from discussing the Judicial Selection Committee [changing the composition of the committee is a key element of the judicial reforms], and the prime minister himself announced, and he repeats and announces again explicitly, that he agrees that there will not be a new judge selected by the Judicial Selection Committee who will be involved in his case.
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, requesting that the petition be rejected “in its entirety.”
On March 26, Netanyahu’s attorney Michael Rabilo condemned the petition against the prime minister.
“This is a grave attempt to drag the judicial system into the political turmoil and cause it to decide illegally and in opposition to the decision of the representative democratic institutions, without explicit authority in law,” said Rabilo. “No word games can hide the fact that there’s an attempt here to uproot the sovereignty of the people and carry out a coup under the cover of the court.”
A law passed by the Knesset on March 23, before Netanyahu’s speech, declares that only the Cabinet has the authority to remove a sitting prime minister from office, thus stripping the Supreme Court of its legal authority to enforce the agreement.