Israel has ratified a law limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed, despite worries voiced by a government jurist that it may be meant to shield the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
Lawmakers voted 61 against 47 to approve on Thursday an amendment to one of Israel’s Basic Laws, the country’s quasi-constitution, specifying the necessary conditions to temporarily declare a prime minister unfit for office.
The vote came as Netanyahu’s government pushes forward with a divisive judicial reform programme, which critics say threatens Israeli democracy and has sparked mass protest.
On Thursday, reports said that dozens of protesters were arrested as thousands rallied against Netanyahu’s government.
The amended definition for the “incapacity” of national leaders is among legislative measures by the religious-nationalist coalition that have tipped Israel into crisis, with the opposition arguing that judicial independence is in peril.
The coalition says the overhaul is aimed at pushing back against Supreme Court over-reach and restoring balance among branches of government.
Under the new approved bill, prime ministers can be deemed unfit – and compelled to step aside – either if they or three-quarters of cabinet ministers declare them so on physical or psychological grounds.
The stipulations fleshed out a quasi-constitutional “basic law” that provides the government with guidance in the event of a non-functioning prime minister – but which previously lacked details on circumstances that may give rise to such situations.
Conflict of interest
According to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the rule had earlier left Netanyahu vulnerable to a possible assertion of his incapacity by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, should she perceive an attempt by him to halt his three court cases.
The new law precludes this, IDI senior researcher Amir Fuchs said – while adding that he had considered such a finding by Bararav-Miara to be an unlikely “extreme case”.
Netanyahu denies all charges against him, and has cast the trials as a politicised bid to force him from office.
Baharav-Miara – who was appointed by the former Israeli government – said last month that Netanyahu must stay out of his coalition’s push for a judicial overhaul because of what she deemed a conflict of interest arising from his trials.
Baharav-Miara’s deputy, Gil Limon, voiced misgivings over the incapacity bill during a Knesset review session on Tuesday.
“What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed,” Limon said, according to an official transcript.
“They have the potential to serve the personal interests of a man regarding the outcomes of legal proceedings he is facing.”