Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted illegally by announcing Thursday that he would involve himself directly in his government’s moves to change the country’s judicial system, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told him in an open letter Friday.
“Last night you publicly announced that you intend to violate the ruling of the Supreme Court and act contrary to the opinion of the legal advisor to the government,” she wrote. That statement, she said, “is illegal and contaminated by a conflict of interest.”
The move raises the stakes even further in a national controversy that has sent tens of thousands of demonstrators onto Israel’s streets, caused military reservists to refuse to train, and prompted criticism from business and financial leaders, former military and intelligence commanders, and international allies including US President Joe Biden.
It comes after the Netanyahu government pushed through a law on Thursday effectively stripping the courts of the power to declare a prime minister unfit for office.
Hours later, Netanyahu said in a speech to the nation that he would get personally involved in the controversial package of measures to overhaul the country’s judicial system. Until then, the campaign had been publicly led by Netanyahu allies including Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
“Until today my hands were tied. No more. I enter the event, for the sake of the people and the country, I will do everything in my power to reach a solution and calm the spirits in the nation,” Netanyahu said in his speech Thursday night.
Baharav-Miara’s letter referred to a court-mandated conflict of interest agreement that Netanyahu accepted in order to allow him to form a government despite being on trial for multiple allegations of corruption.
“As a Prime Minister indicted with crimes, you must refrain from actions that arouse a reasonable fear of a conflict of interest between your personal interests in the criminal proceedings and your role as Prime Minister,” she wrote to him.
A source close to Netanyahu, who was in London meeting UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday, denied he had broken the law or violated his conflict of interest agreement.
“The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday has no bearing on his personal affairs,” the source said.
The dispute is likely to end up in the high court.