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Likud MK says Netanyahu should hand judicial overhaul ‘baton’ to Levin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot legally intervene in the government’s ongoing judicial overhaul because of a conflict of interest agreement barring him from working on issues connected to the legal system, and should hand the “baton” to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, said renegade Likud MK Tally Gotliv on Sunday.

In an interview with the Knesset channel, Gotliv said, “Netanyahu cannot touch the judicial system… He is inherently in a conflict of interest, on a personal level.”

She recalled that in March a prominent attorney in Netanyahu’s defense team, Boaz Ben Zur, reportedly told the prime minister he would no longer represent him if the planned drastic reshaping of the judiciary is passed. Gotliv suggested that, as a result, Netanyahu is reluctant to proceed with the plan.

“It is enough that his lawyer told him that if he advances the reform he will stop representing him,” she said. “Ben Zur… tells him, ‘If you pass the reform, I will not represent you,’ so how can you be sure that the considerations will be clean?”

Gotliv, an attorney by trade, added that, “unfortunately,” where Netanyahu has intervened, it has been on the side of protecting the current judicial system rather than pushing for change.”

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She said she had long advocated for Netanyahu “to pass the baton to Yariv Levin” on the issue.

The overhaul plan has sparked months of mass protests by opponents to the change who warn it will dangerously erode Israel’s democratic character by weakening the courts’ ability to act as a check and balance to the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at the Jerusalem District Court during the testimony of businessman Arnon Milchan in Netanyahu’s corruption trial, July 2, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

In March, Netanyahu was warned by the attorney general that he was in violation of the conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020, which barred him from getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial on corruption charges. The warning came in response to Netanyahu declaring he was unshackled by the conflict of interest arrangement — after the Knesset passed a law making it harder to remove a sitting prime minister — and vowing to wade into the crisis and “mend the rift” in the nation.

The High Court has agreed to hear petitions on the issue sometime in mid-September.

Earlier Sunday, speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, Gotliv denied that there was a revolt in Netanyahu’s Likud party over the pace of the judicial overhaul, but said some MKs are impatient with the prime minister.

“There is no rebellion in the Likud, no one in the Likud acts on their own in this matter,” she said. “Netanyahu himself, as I have already repeated and made clear again and again, puts the reform at the end of his list priorities — the reform is not on the table. That is why MKs express themselves in this way.”

However, Gottlieb stressed, “We are not rebels and I am not sending a message.”

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000, in which he is represented by Ben Zur. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup, led by the police and state prosecution.