Israeli lawmakers defend Netanyahu amid bill seeking to bar him from serving as PM

Netanyahu will “return as prime minister,” said Likud Member of Knesset Miki Zohar. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Likud Member of Knesset (MK) Miki Zohar has come out in strong defense of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the Likud head will “return as prime minister.”

Netanyahu was forced out of the role earlier this year after leading Israel for twelve consecutive years, when Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid cobbled together a rainbow coalition from across the political spectrum to take control of the Knesset.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar published notice of a new law amending the Basic Law of Government, which would prevent anyone from serving as prime minister while under criminal indictment. The move is widely being seen as a measure to prevent Netanyahu from serving a third term as PM, as he is currently indicted on corruption charges.

“We’ll soon see whether the law passes in a Knesset vote, but even if it does, it’s not the end of the world,” Zohar told 103FM. “Such a piece of legislation would serve as an excellent incentive for hundreds of thousands of our voters who didn’t come to the polling stations last elections, to get out there and vote next time around. They know that we’ll overturn such a law and that Netanyahu will return as prime minister. We’re not worried at all.”

He added: “Clearly Gideon Sa’ar’s legislation can be corrected as soon as we return to state leadership. The problem is that if the bill passes, anyone who wants to serve as prime minister will need to worry the State Attorney’s Office may not like them and file an indictment against them.”

The Likud Party has also dismissed the move, calling it “embarrassing” for Sa’ar.

“Gideon Sa’ar, who in the polls is clawing at the electoral threshold from below, is proposing an Iran-style, anti-democratic law that seeks to disqualify those who earn 35 Knesset seats in the polls and earn the support of millions of citizens as their representative for the premiership. How embarrassing,” the party said in a statement.

Opposition to the bill didn’t only come from Likud.

Religious Zionism Party MK Simcha Rothman also called the bill “an embarrassment” for both Sa’ar and Israel.

“Anyone who does not trust the 61 lawmakers to pick the best candidate and tries to let a clerk decide who can and cannot be prime minister … shows themselves to have no faith in the people, elected officials, and the democratic process,” he said, adding: “This is not ‘reminiscent of darker times,’ this is a dark time.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a Yamina MK, has also indicated opposition to the bill, saying: “I do not think the attorney general should determine who heads the government.”

But Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List, countered Shaked, tweeting that while she has only one vote against, his party will register six in favor. He then tagged Sa’ar to say that the bill could be passed as early as next week.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin meanwhile told Army Radio that the bill was not a personal attack on Netanyahu. The bill represented “the learning of lessons from the reality in which we lived,” he said, adding: “For years, I thought it was necessary to wait for a conviction, but when I saw how a state can be taken hostage and thrown into a series of election campaigns, I was forced to change my mind. I think it’s unfeasible for Netanyahu to go back to being prime minister. It’s not a personal law.”