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High Court kicks off key discussion on petitions against prime minister recusal law

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday’s events as they unfold.

WATCH: High Court discusses petitions against government’s PM recusal law

The High Court of Justice hearing on the prime minister recusal law is underway in Jerusalem.

Here is a livestream of the Hebrew-language discussion:

Anti-government protest leaders decry Levin’s ‘mafialike’ remarks about court

Leaders of protests against the government’s judicial overhaul liken Justice Minister Yariv Levin to a mob lawyer due to his comments against the High Court of Justice ahead of today’s key hearing on the prime minister recusal law.

“Levin is continuing to behave like an attorney for the Sicilian mafia and is sending threats toward the court as the discussion begins,” they say in a statement. “Such mafialike conduct happens only in a dictatorship.

“The man leading a dangerous leadership coup that is crushing the State of Israel already knows that millions will show up to defend the court and the gatekeepers [of democracy] in the face of his actions.”

Rothman says even discussing annulment of recusal law is ‘a very extreme act’

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman assails the High Court of Justice for agreeing to even discuss the potential voiding of the government’s recusal law.

“The very existence of such a discussion in a democratic state is a very extreme act. It’s like the government holding a discussion on canceling elections,” Rothman asserts in an interview with Army Radio.

The law shields prime ministers from being forced by the court or by the attorney general to step down, and is widely seen as designed to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from facing such a sanction for violating a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020 that allowed him to serve as premier while on trial for corruption charges. Under that deal, Netanyahu committed not to involve himself in judicial matters that could affect his ongoing trial.

Levin: Voiding recusal law or delaying its application would erase Israel’s democracy

Justice Minister Yariv Levin argues in a statement that today’s High Court hearing on petitions against the government’s recusal law “is de facto a discussion of whether to cancel the election results.”

The law shields prime ministers from being forced by the court or by the attorney general to step down, and is widely seen as designed to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from facing such a sanction for violating a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020 to allow him to serve as premier while on trial for corruption charges. Under that deal, Netanyahu committed not to involve himself in judicial matters that could affect his ongoing trial.

In his statement, Levin also dismisses a proposal made by the court to delay the implementation date of the law to the next Knesset to avoid the apparent personal nature of the law.

“The meaning of delaying the implementation of the recusal law is that an unelected official… would be able to hand themselves powers that they were never given, and discuss the delusional option of ordering a prime minister to recuse himself, in total contrast with the election results,” Levin says.

“The result of this would be that Israel will no longer be a democracy, instead being ruled by people who placed themselves above the people, above the voters’ choice in the ballot box.”

4 arrested as hundreds rally against Netanyahu near PM’s home ahead of key court hearing

Hundreds of anti-government protesters demonstrate near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home on Gaza Street in Jerusalem ahead of today’s key High Court of Justice hearing on petitions against the coalition’s recusal law, which shields prime ministers from being forced by the court or by the attorney general to step down.

The controversial law — an amendment to a quasi-constitutional Basic Law — is widely seen as designed, among other things, to protect Netanyahu from the consequences of a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020 that allowed him to serve as premier while on trial for corruption charges. Under that deal, Netanyahu committed not to involve himself in judicial matters that could affect his ongoing trial.

The current government has been pushing through a comprehensive overhaul of the judiciary and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has declared Netanyahu to be in violation of the deal, though she has said she isn’t considering ordering the premier to recuse himself.

The anti-Netanyahu activists from the Brothers and Sisters in Arms group arrive with cardboard boxes with the slogan “Pack, Sara, Levin is moving in” — implying that Netanyahu and his wife Sara will soon be ousted from the prime minister’s residence and that Justice Minister Yariv Levin will replace them.

Members of the anti-overhaul protest movement Brothers and Sisters in Arms rally outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem, September 28, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The activists demand that Netanyahu “show leadership and cancel the judicial coup so that the chaos will stop and Israel will get back on track.”

Police deploy a large number of officers to the scene, including mounted officers and a water cannon.

Four protesters have been arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace after climbing over a fence into the property of a building adjacent to the prime minister’s residence.