Israel Passes Law Protecting Netanyahu as Protests Continue

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition has approved legislation that would protect the Israeli leader from being deemed unfit to rule on his corruption trial and allegations of a conflict of interest over his involvement in legal changes.

Critics say the law is tailor-made for Netanyahu, encourages corruption and deepens the chasm among Israelis over judicial reform.

The legal changes have divided the nation between those who see the new policies stripping Israel of its democratic ideals and those who think the country has been overrun by a liberal judiciary.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo/AP)

The government’s plan has plunged the nearly 75-year-old nation into one of its worst internal crises.

The opposition is entrenched in broad sectors of society, including business leaders and senior legal officials.

Even the country’s armed forces are embroiled in the political conflict, with some reservists refusing to report for duty over the changes.

Israel’s international allies have also expressed concern.

On Thursday, protesters launched a fourth day of weekday demonstrations.

They blocked major highways, set tires on fire near a major seaport and hung a large Israeli flag and a copy of the country’s declaration of independence on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israelis protest against government plans to reform the judicial system
Israelis protest against government plans to reform the judicial system (Ariel Schalit/AP)

That was in addition to the tens of thousands of people who have shown up for weekly protests every Saturday night for more than two months.

Netanyahu’s government rejected a compromise proposal earlier this month aimed at easing the crisis.

He said he would slow the pace of the changes, pushing most of them until after a month-long break in April.

But he was making progress on a key part of the reform, which would give the government control over who becomes a judge.

The government says it amended the original bill to make the law more inclusive, but opponents have rejected the move, saying the change is cosmetic and would maintain government control over the appointment of judges.

The measure was expected to pass next week.

Protesters blocked a highway
Protesters blocked a highway (Ariel Schalit/AP)

The law to protect Netanyahu passed 61-47 in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

It stipulates that a prime minister can only be deemed unfit to govern for health or mental reasons and only he or his government can make that decision.

It comes after the country’s attorney general has faced increasing calls from Netanyahu’s opponents to declare him unfit to rule over his legal troubles.

The attorney general has already barred Netanyahu from participating in the legal review, saying he risks a conflict of interest because of his corruption trial.

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and powerful media moguls.

He denies any wrongdoing and dismisses critics who say he could find a way out of the charges through legal reform being pushed by his government.

The government says the changes are needed to restore the balance between the executive and judiciary, which they say has become too interventionist in the way the country is run.

Critics say Israel’s most right-wing government is pushing the country toward authoritarianism with its reform, which they say upends the country’s fragile system of checks and balances.


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