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Netanyahu demanded exclusion of recusal law from potential overhaul freeze – report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly demanded that the so-called recusal law remain in effect under any circumstances in a recently floated, and rejected, compromise plan by the President’s Residence regarding the coalition’s judicial overhaul.

According to Hebrew media reports Wednesday, the main bone of contention in the president’s framework was the freezing of judicial overhaul legislation in return for granting the coalition more power on the Judicial Selection Committee in the form of a veto over the selection of the Supreme Court president and lower court judges.

Channel 13 reported that another issue was Netanyahu’s insistence that any freeze still allow a potential override clause to be legislated with a regular majority so that the Knesset could reapprove the government’s law shielding the premier from being ordered by courts or the attorney general to step down, in case the High Court disqualifies the measure.

Netanyahu has publicly said the coalition will no longer pursue an override clause, but privately, he reportedly told ministers in July it is still on the table. Meanwhile, the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox politicians, who have long been angered by the High Court’s rulings on certain issues relating to their community, including repeatedly striking down legislation that exempts them from military service, have said the passage of such a bill is imperative to the government’s survival.

A High Court hearing on the recusal law is set for September 28.

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The network said Netanyahu associates are convinced that given the opportunity, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara will order the prime minister to recuse himself over violations of the conflict of interest agreement he signed to prevent him from dealing with matters that could affect his ongoing corruption trial.

File: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

The report did not elaborate on the opposition’s reaction to this demand, but noted, without citing sources, that talks on a compromise were ongoing.

President Isaac Herzog recently renewed his push to foster understandings between the coalition and opposition over the issue, stating Wednesday that political leaders must engage in dialogue to end what he called an “acute constitutional” crisis roiling society because, he said, that is what the majority of the public wants.

The president’s remarks came after earlier this week he put together a framework proposal to act as the basis for talks between the coalition and opposition over the former’s controversial plan to drastically overhaul the judiciary.

The overhaul plan has faced months of mass protests alongside warnings from economic and legal figures who say it will damage the country. Opponents have organized weekly demonstrations and strikes while thousands of reserve soldiers have said they will stop performing their duties if legislation of the scheme continues.

The recusal law was passed by the coalition in March, apparently to ensure that Netanyahu, who is on trial on multiple counts of alleged corruption, will not be ordered to recuse himself due to any alleged violation of a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020.

The High Court placed an injunction on the law, which is part of Israel’s quasi-constitutional basic laws, in August.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana on Wednesday said at a press conference the overturning of a Basic Law could “plunge us into the abyss” and that the Knesset “won’t submissively accept its trampling,” suggesting a potential ruling of the sort may be ignored by the coalition.

The prime minister had become increasingly concerned that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara would order him to recuse himself after she stated he would be in violation of his conflict of interest agreement if he involved himself in his government’s judicial overhaul. Baharav-Miara has asked the court to strike down the recusal law but has reportedly made clear that she is not considering ordering the prime minister’s recusal.

The conflict of interest agreement prohibits Netanyahu from making judicial appointments, and arguably, any broader changes to the judiciary, such as those his government has been advancing.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.