Citing ‘national crisis,’ Netanyahu tells court he must be involved in overhaul

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued in a filing to the High Court of Justice on Sunday that there is no substantial conflict between his ongoing corruption trial and his government’s far-reaching legal reforms, and asked the judges to reject his request to hold in contempt. court for not having anything to do with the matter.

Netanyahu’s lawyers set out this position in response to a request by the Movement for Quality Government (MQG) that the High Court hold the prime minister in contempt for what the organization says was last month’s breach of an agreement conflict of interest approved by the court in 2020 and updated earlier this year.

They said the consequences of the reform program have been so far-reaching, resulting in what they called a “national crisis”, that he was obliged by his office to be closely involved in managing the situation.

They also said that, in order to finalize his legal position, he was happy for it to be decided that judges appointed after the passing of the judicial reform legislation would not be involved in his trial.

In an announcement on March 24, Netanyahu said he was starting to join the debate within his coalition about the judicial reform bills, given the centrality of that agenda to his government and the controversy it has caused, both domestically and internationally. at large and also within his own party.

That statement MQG accused Netanyahu of violating a conflict of interest agreement — originally drafted by former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and approved by the High Court in 2020 — that ordered him not to engage in legislative matters that may have an impact on his trial, or in the selection of judges.

Found with the leader of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, Attorney Eliad Shraga, at the Supreme Court hearing, April 27, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Since one of the central pillars of the judicial reform program is to remake the Judicial Selection Committee, placing the appointment of all judges in the hands of the ruling coalition, MQG argued in a motion to the High Court on March 26 that Netanyahu was defeating the Coalition. conflict of interest agreement and was therefore in contempt of court.

This was based in part on the fact that Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara updated the conflict of interest agreement in February, after the formation of the new government a month earlier, writing that the original agreement meant that Netanyahu could not himself to be involved in the judicial overhaul. legislation.

One of the concerns related to Netanyahu’s involvement in the legal reforms is that the prime minister would be able to influence the composition of the Supreme Court by giving the coalition government control over judicial appointments.

If Netanyahu is convicted in his corruption trial, which is being heard in the District Court in Jerusalem, he could appeal to the Supreme Court, where a panel including judges appointed by his current coalition government could hear his case.

In their response to the MQG petition filed on Sunday, Netanyahu’s lawyers argued that the original conflict of interest agreement prohibited the prime minister from being involved in matters related to the selection of the judges himself, not the composition of the Selection Committee Judges.

They also argued that his position as prime minister and the critical nature of the coalition’s judicial reform program meant he was obliged by his role to involve himself in the issue.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022 for a hearing in his trial. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“With all due respect to any conflict of interest agreement, when there is an issue that the president says could lead to 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 by virtue of his position must manage the issue and be involved in it — and this has nothing to do with his personal affairs. This is the meaning of the role of the prime minister, and this is the meaning of the choice of the citizens of the State of Israel,” wrote Netanyahu’s attorneys.

They also pointed to the original conflict of interest agreement, which they said did not prevent Netanyahu from participating in the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee.

The original agreement mandated: “You must be involved in matters relating to the decisions of the Agreement [Judicial] The Selection Committee, as far as the judges of the Supreme Court and the Jerusalem District Court are concerned, as they may deal with the criminal proceedings in your case or with matters relating to you, or matters relating to the judges of the tribunal in your trial .”

However, the agreement added that Netanyahu “would not be barred from participating in the process of choosing the representative of the government or the Knesset in the Judicial Selection Committee.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Therefore, Netanyahu’s lawyers argued that he acted according to the agreement.

“He did not deviate at all from and did not act contrary to the provisions of the ruling given in this proceeding,” they wrote. “The ruling did not prevent the prime minister from deliberating on the Judicial Selection Committee (but instead) prevented him from instructing the members of the committee on who to select.”

Netanyahu’s attorneys said he had said in the past that “it can be determined that judges appointed after changes to the Judicial Selection Committee will not serve as judges in hearings related to his trial, including directly related with his subjects. “

The Movement for the Quality of Government said in response to Netanyahu’s filing that the prime minister’s claim “shows that he does not understand his actions and their consequences,” adding: “Netanyahu is prohibited from dealing with matters of legal reform, but he consciously chooses to do so. He violates court orders, and he even admits it.”

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