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Israel's attorney general says Netanyahu is breaking the law

March 24, 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warned he could not be directly involved in the government's controversial plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street after meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Netanyahu, on an official visit to Britain, did not respond to the attorney general's letterImage: Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP/picture alliance

Israel's attorney general on Friday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of breaking the law by directly involving himself in his government's judicial overhaul plans. 

Gali Baharav-Miara warned Netanyahu of potential legal consequences and described his intervention as "illegal," noting a conflict of interest given Netanyahu's ongoing trial over alleged corruption.

In a speech to the nation on Thursday, Netanyahu said he was putting aside all other considerations and would be intensively involved in shaping the controversial overhaul.

"Your statement last night and any further actions by you that violate that agreement are completely illegal and in conflict of interest," Baharav-Miara wrote in a letter published by Israeli media on Friday.

"The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary," she wrote.

Netanyahu vows to press ahead with judicial overhaul

Baharav-Miara was referring to a 2020 agreement that prohibited Netanyahu from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial on corruption charges. He denies the allegations.

On Thursday, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed legislation that makes it harder to remove Netanyahu from office.

Following the vote, the prime minister said that "until today my hands were tied."

Netanyahu contended that the legistlation was necessary to clear the way for him to participate in the negotiations on the judicial overhaul and try "mend the rift" in a nation polarized by the announced reforms.

Until now, Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin has handled the reform plans.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused the attorney general, who was appointed by the former center-right government, of acting as a de-facto head of the opposition.

"If Ms. Baharav-Miara wants to make decisions on behalf of elected officials, she is welcome to form a party and run for parliament," he wrote on Twitter.

What are the proposed measures? 

Netanyahu's coalition government has been pursuing changes to the judiciary that would give the government sway in choosing judges and limit the Supreme Court's power to strike down laws.

They argue the changes are needed to restore a balance between the executive and judicial branches, claiming that liberal judges have become too interventionist.

Opponents of the legal changes say the government — Israel's most right-wing ever — is seeking to erode the separation of powers in Israel, putting the country on a path toward autocracy.

Crowds of British Israelis and British Jews stage a protest, holding a sign that reads "Fight for Israel's democracy"
Hundreds of protesters, many holding Israeli flags and placards critical of Netanyahu, rallied outside 10 Downing Street in LondonImage: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Sunak stresses 'democratic values' in talks with Netanyahu

The proposed plan has sparked weeks of nationwide demonstrations and caused concern among the country's Western allies.

On Friday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasized the need to protect "democratic values" in a Downing Street meeting with Netanyahu.

"The prime minister stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel," a spokesperson for Sunak said.

Outside Downing Street, protesters shouted "Shame!" in Hebrew and demonstrated against the Israeli leader's plans.

lo/nm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)