Should Israel’s High Court Intervene Over the Netanyahu Case?

The situation facing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking increasingly desperate. He is being challenged from within his own Likud Party by a Member of the Knesset (MK) called Gideon Sa’ar. He has warned the Prime Minister that he has no chance of forming a government and that Netanyahu would lose a third election, which is more than likely to happen in March 2020 now. This has left him with no choice but to concede to a leadership election if a third poll happens.

David Shimron, the Prime Minister’s cousin, has already been indicted for corruption in relation to a contentious £1.5 billion deal to buy German submarines. Meanwhile, Netanyahu himself is being investigated for bribery, fraud and breach of trust by Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s Attorney General.

Both the Prime Minister and Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, failed to form a coalition government before Wednesday’s deadline. The Blue and White leader called on Netanyahu to ‘serve as an example’ by resigning his post and allowing his immunity to public prosecution be removed. However, one institutional body may find itself having to resolve this crisis: Israel’s High Court.

Many hi-tech businessmen started a new petition running in parallel to the one already filed by the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel to the High Court and an anticipated future petition by the Labor Party.

Although Mandelblit is protecting the Prime Minister by analysing whether he can form a new government whilst being indicted for bribery, he has ruled that the issue can be ‘kicked down the road’ because it is only theoretical.

But many of these businessmen argue that the situation is concrete, and not theoretical because electors should know whether Netanyahu has the legal means to form a government before they vote. Some of these officials include Dr Orna Bari, Shai Weininger and Pinhas Buchris. They are being represented by Daphna Holech-Lechner, who has been involved in other substantial High Court cases.

Fortunately for these hi-tech giants, the High Court’s powers have not been curbed yet and it is an effective means to maintain the balance of power in Israel. It is only fair that the judiciary should be allowed to intervene in this case. Earlier this year, Netanyahu wanted to introduce a bill to prevent the court from interfering in his decision to stop Palestinians from participating in a joint Memorial Day ceremony.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the High Court defended Israeli citizens from successive governments clamping down on their right to freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate. They also reduced military censorship and limited the use of certain military methods. Therefore, Israel’s judiciary guards citizens against excessive political power.

The judiciary is the only independent branch of government that can ensure Netanyahu is proved guilty or innocent in his impeachment inquiry. The Prime Minister’s bill would also mean that he would have had permanent immunity from corruption charges, even though there is a strong chance that he is guilty. This would have destroyed the High Court.

It is also one of the few institutions left in Israel that is trusted among its population. According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, the majority of Jewish (57 per cent) and Arab (54 per cent) Israelis believe in the High Court. If it was prevented from intervening in the Netanyahu case and he was found guilty of all his charges, this would damage Israelis’ trust in their political system.

The High Court should intervene in the Prime Minister’s impeachment inquiry. As Netanyahu’s bill to reduce the judiciary’s role in the Israeli constitution did not pass, nothing is preventing them from doing so. For the sake of transparency and fairness in Israeli democracy, the hi-tech officials’ petition should be approved.