The Israeli parliament on Thursday passed a law that would limit the ways a sitting prime minister can be declared unfit for office as part of a package of bills the government is pushing through in its controversial judicial overhaul.
The bill is largely seen by the opposition and critics as a way to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing an ongoing corruption trial.
By a 61-to-47 final vote, the Knesset approved the bill that states that only the prime minister himself or the cabinet, with a two-thirds majority, can declare the leader unfit. The cabinet vote would then need to be ratified by a super majority in the parliament.
Additionally, “The authority to declare the Prime Minister incapacitated will only belong to the government or the Knesset and will only occur due to physical or mental incapacity,” a Knesset statement said on Thursday.
The bill also prevents the Supreme Court from considering “a request to declare the incapacity of the Prime Minister.”
“Given that a sitting prime minister derives his power and authority from the people through his representatives, this proposal reflects the existing concept according to which the removal of the leader against his will, will be determined by the people’s representatives alone without the involvement of an unelected arm,” the statement said.
Opposition figures have already announced plans to challenge the law in the Supreme Court. Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid called it a “disgraceful and corrupt personalized law” and that ultimately Netanyahu is “looking out only for himself.”
“Like thieves in the night, the coalition just passed a disgraceful and corrupt personalized law in response to a baseless rumour about recusal. Every citizen of Israel should know – days before Passover, while cost of living is soaring, Netanyahu is once more looking out only for himself,” Lapid said on Thursday.
Leader of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli MK said the law that was passed is “a shameful, disgraceful law whose whole purpose is prevent Netanyahu from being sent to prison.”
“This is all that the coalition and this government are doing, with personal legislation and the regime coup. They are sacrificing the State of Israel in order to settle themselves under a corrupt government,” Michaeli said.
Netanyahu’s new far-right government has charged ahead with controversial plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system by undermining the Supreme Court, weakening judicial oversight over policymaking.
Netanyahu, who is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to appear in court as a defendant, is on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He denies any wrongdoing.
As part of a deal with the court to serve as a prime minister despite his ongoing trial, Netanyahu agreed to a conflict of interest declaration. The Attorney General then determined the declaration meant Netanyahu could not be involved in the policy making of the judicial overhaul. A petition is currently in front of the Israeli Supreme Court to declare Netanyahu unfit for office on the grounds he has violated that conflict of interest declaration.
For months now, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have regularly taken to the streets to protest the overhaul, saying it will damage Israeli democracy. They’ve been joined by senior figures in Israel’s security, high-tech, financial and academic fields.