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Netanyahu lawyer tells High Court it lacks power to delay recusal law’s application

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

Netanyahu’s lawyer: The law didn’t change the rules — PM recusal shouldn’t be part of the rules

Netanyahu’s lawyer Michael Rabello tells the High Court that the prime minister recusal law doesn’t “change the rules of the game mid-game,” since judicial officials ordering a premier to step down “isn’t part of the rules of the game in a democracy.”

“There needs to be balance between the branches of government, but this doesn’t mean we can cancel and trample the principle of rule of the majority,” he says.

He argues that the court doesn’t have the authority to set the implementation date of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law.

Judges challenge Netanyahu lawyer’s claim that delaying recusal law would ‘nix election results’

Michael Rabello, a private lawyer representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the High Court hearing on petitions against the recusal law, tells judges that voiding or delaying the implementation of the legislation would “leave open the option of a head-on collision between the branches of government, the option of the trampling of the Knesset” by ordering the premier to recuse himself.

He says such a scenario would be “a cancellation of the election results.”

Justices respond that what’s on the line isn’t an annulment of the entire law, but only a delay in its application.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut says: “How does delaying the implementation of the recusal law cancel the elections?”

Rabello is representing Netanyahu after Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara refused to do so and argued against the government’s position.

Smotrich says High Court hearing on recusal law is ‘illegitimate’

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, calls the High Court of Justice hearing on the recusal law “illegitimate.”

“The nation made its voice heard in the election, and unelected officials can’t negate the people’s choice,” he says in a statement. “Judges can’t cancel a Basic Law and definitely not invent a power for themselves or the attorney general to oust an elected prime minister.

“This is the truth, and all the rest is a bad and invalid show.”

Knesset lawyer says recusal law not designed to enable PM to act in conflict of interest

Knesset attorney Yitzhak Bart says the purpose of the law isn’t to allow prime ministers to act in conflict of interest, calling this a “harsh conclusion.”

He says the premier’s duty to refrain from conflicts of interest doesn’t stem from Basic Law: The Government, which the recusal law is an amendment to.

One of the justices says this line of argument “has no chance of success.”

Chief Justice Esther Hayut says what’s on the line isn’t the potential voiding of the law: “The injunction [the court issued] doesn’t talk about abolishing the law, the lacuna in the law has been filled. No one issued an injunction against the entire law, we’re only talking about when the law should be implemented.”

Justice Ofer Grosskopf adds: “The question is whether a government that changes the conditions that apply to it while it is serving is changing the rules of the game.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

‘According to you, no legislation is personal’: Judges challenge Knesset lawyer’s claims

High Court justices challenge Knesset lawyer Yitzhak Bart’s attempt to differentiate between the lawmakers’ motives for passing the prime minister recusal law and the purpose the law ends up serving.

Bart notes that the motives concern the past — the specific circumstances in which the law was passed, which indeed have a personal nature in shielding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from possibly being forced to step down — while the purpose concerns the future and transcends the motives.

Justice Yitzhak Amit responds: “When the law is colored from head to foot in a motive, the question is does this not influence the purpose of the law?”

Justice Ofer Grosskopf says: “The motives can affect the purpose. The purpose of the law was to revoke the possibility of ordering a prime minister to recuse himself due to violating a conflict of interest agreement, which is relevant to the current situation.”

Justice Daphne Barak-Erez adds: “What you’re saying is that there can never be personal legislation as long as there is a clause which applies in the future. So, according to you, there’s no such thing as personal legislation.”

Knesset lawyer admits key motive for recusal law was personal, but says its purpose was general

Yitzhak Bart, an attorney representing the Knesset in the High Court of Justice hearing on the prime minister recusal law, admits that “one of the main motives” for passing the legislation was to personally serve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interests and shield him from removal based on a conflict of interest agreement.

But he argues that what is more important and should form the basis of the discussion is the purpose of the law — distinct from the motives for passing it — which is general and transcends the motives that led the lawmakers to pass it.

He also says the motives of each of the MKs who voted in favor of the legislation can’t be learned from isolated sentences said by individual lawmakers during Knesset committee meetings. He says the “personal” nature of the law wasn’t necessarily meant to benefit Netanyahu as an individual, but rather as the head of the government the lawmakers took a part in forming.

Justice Ofer Grosskopf responds: “If the purpose [of the legislation] is to protect and give immunity to a government, does this not create a clash with the purpose of constituent authority?”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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.