Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney on Sunday rejected a High Court petition alleging that the prime minister violated a conflict of interest agreement by delivering a speech on judicial reform on March 23.
The Jerusalem-based left-wing Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed the petition on Sunday, asking that the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, punish Netanyahu with prison time or fines for the televised address.
In arguing against the petition’s validity, the lawyer, Michael Rabilo, cited a law passed last week in the Knesset preventing the Supreme Court from declaring a sitting premier unfit to serve and thus forcing him to take a leave of absence.
“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.”
In accepting the petition filed Sunday, Supreme Court president Esther Hayut ruled that Netanyahu must respond by the following Sunday, April 2. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana were also ordered to respond to the petition by that date.
On March 24, Baharav-Miara 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.
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 trial. However, the law passed by the Knesset last Thursday 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.