(May 26, 2020 / JNS) Israel’s right-wing Yamina Party announced on Monday that it had submitted a bill aimed at preventing the criminal prosecution of a sitting prime minister.
In a statement released to the press, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, along with party members Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich, explained the impetus for the bill, which is based on the “French law”—an Israeli nickname for legislation in France that grants leaders immunity from investigation, indictment and prosecution until they are out of office.
Referring to criminal trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which began with his arraignment on Sunday, the statement reads:
“As we see these days, investigations and a criminal trial against a sitting prime minister seriously impair his ability to function, and grant excessive power to the State Attorney’s Office. The separation of government branches requires avoiding a situation in which it is possible to threaten an incumbent prime minister and thwart the public’s democratic choice through judicial persecution.
“Recently, we have witnessed, most tangibly, the serious damage that the investigations into the incumbent prime minister have done to democracy, government stability and public trust in the system of law enforcement, which is perceived, rightly, as a political actor. The solution to this distorted reality does not lie in speeches … but rather in legislation.”
As the proposed legislation involves prohibiting the launching of investigations into a sitting premier, it would not affect Netanyahu’s trial. However, if passed, it would prevent further investigations from being opened until he was out of office.
Knesset members from Netanyahu’s Likud Party are expected to back the bill, while Vice Prime Minister Benny Gantz and lawmakers from his Blue and White Party are not, according to Israeli media reports.
In February, ahead of the third round of Knesset elections that has since resulted in the establishment of a national-unity government—headed first by Netanyahu and 18 months later by Gantz—Netanyahu vowed that he would not advance the “French law.”
At the time, Gantz said that if Netanyahu were to advance such a bill, he would become like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Yamina decided earlier this month not to join the new coalition, opting instead to become part of the opposition, albeit from the right. With the swearing in of the new government, Bennett was replaced as defense minister by Gantz; Shaked, who served as justice minister from 2015-2019, remains a regular Knesset member; and Smotrich was replaced in his recent role as transportation minister by former Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.
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