Tel Aviv (GPA) – The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, seek to protect the Prime Minister’s Office from criminal investigation.
This week, a committee of Israeli Cabinet Ministers will be working out the final wording of a bill to protect Israeli PMs from criminal investigation while in office. This proposal, known as the “French bill,” was put forth by Netanyahu and his far-right Likud party.
This bill is already drowning in controversy, primarily due to the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently the target of several police investigations. However, there is confusion whether this would actually protect Netanyahu; but more on that later.
There are some protections written into the bill in its current form (although, this could change) that could possibly limit Netanyahu’s ability to avoid charges. This includes exemptions in the law for investigations into crimes involving “sex, violence, drugs, and security crimes.”
There is also currently a clause in the bill that would freeze the statute of limitations on crimes committed by a PM during their term, allowing police to still investigate once said term is over. The problem with this clause, however, is that there are currently no term limits for PMs and all the recent bills introduced to change this law include loopholes that the new term limit rules would only go into effect after Netanyahu leaves office. Without term limits, the office of prime minister, especially under someone like Netanyahu, could become a near-permanent position and allow Bibi to effectively avoid criminal charges for years.
But, back to the current bill and what it means for Bibi. Likud doesn’t deny that the bill is being influenced by, and is “connected to” Netanyahu, “but not to recent events.” This is according to Likud Coalition chairman David Bitan who was on Israeli radio this week claiming his party is more concerned with the fact that “For 20 years already, prime ministers have been investigated and we need to stop it and freeze the investigations until after his term.”
When Bitan was asked if the new bill could be used by Likud and Netanyahu to block investigations currently surrounding the PM, he told radio hosts that this was untrue. Bitan pushed the same line as all the other defenders of the bill, reassuring Israelis that the bill would not retroactively protect anyone.
Despite these reassurances from Netanyahu allies, critics of the Prime Minister have expressed their concern that there could be potential loopholes. One possible scenario, presented by the Israeli center-left media outlet, Haaretz, is that Netanyahu could possibly have this new law applied to him if he calls a special election, effectively restarting his term fresh.
If none of this is setting off alarms, the timing of the bill should. This proposal isn’t being crafted in a political vacuum, but at a time where there are currently multiple ongoing investigations of Netanyahu.
These two investigations include “Case 1000,” which is an investigation into whether the Netanyahu family accepted lavish gifts from foreign donors. There is also “Case 2000,” which involves allegations that Netanyahu was willing to change media regulations hampering a critical news outlet in exchange for better coverage of his agenda. Both cases seem to be based on some credible evidence, and even some of Bono’s partners in these crimes have turned into state witnesses against their former boss.
There is also a third case, in which Netanyahu is a person of interest. Known as “Case 3000,” this third investigation involves several Netanyahu allies accused of fraud and graft involving international business deals.
Netanyahu has denied all claims of wrongdoing and is sticking to his defense that all the cases are just political theater. Netanyahu is now also criticizing his former ally, Police commissioner Roni Alsheich for indulging in this “witch hunt.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to be questioned about these cases later this week, shortly before they are expected to go to the state prosecutors office where formal charges will be filed.