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Following a stormy political debate, Knesset passes Incapacitation Law

While the law does not mention names, it directly benefits Netanyahu, who has been indicted for accepting bribes, deception and breach of trust in three separate legal cases

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Minister of Education Yoav Kisch during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Mar. 22, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Late into the night, the Israeli Knesset passed the Incapacitation Law, which blocks the attorney general from declaring an incumbent prime minister unfit to serve the country. 

The new law was adopted on Thursday with 61 votes in favor and 47 against. Several Knesset members were absent from the crucial vote, including David Amsalem and David Bitan, two lawmakers from the ruling Likud party. Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamic Ra’am party, was also absent during the vote. 

Unsurprisingly, the political opposition responded with harsh criticism to the law as it is widely seen as a political tool to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from legal charges. While the Incapacitation Law does not mention names, it directly benefits Netanyahu, who has been indicted for accepting bribes, deception and breach of trust in three separate legal cases. 

The new law, now an amendment to Israel’s Basic Laws, states that an incumbent prime minister can only be removed from office if he or she is physically or mentally unable to serve as the country’s leader. In addition, any decision to remove a prime minister from office must be approved by at least 75% of all the ministers in the government. 

Should the prime minister refuse to step down, he or she could be forced to leave office if 75% of the Knesset members decide so. Given the deep divisions in the Israeli parliament, it seems quite unlikely that 75% of the legislative body would agree on an issue of such magnitude. 

Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned the new law and blasted Netanyahu’s political allies. 

“Like thieves in the night, passed an obscene and corrupt personal law against an unfounded rumor about recusal,” he said.

The opposition leader also accused Netanyahu of putting his personal needs ahead of the country’s many current challenges, including the high cost of living. 

“The citizens of Israel know – just before the [Passover] holiday, while the cost of living is soaring – that, once again, Netanyahu only cares about himself,” he said. 

Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party and a vocal critic of the prime minister, once known to be a Netanyahu ally, said his party would submit a petition to the Supreme Court to overturn the controversial law. 

“We will not allow the State of Israel to become a Netanyahu monarchy,” he said. 

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli blasted the new law, describing it as “a shameful and disgraceful law whose entire purpose is to prevent Netanyahu from being sent to prison.” 

“This is our second war of independence, and we must win it,” the Labor leader added.

Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz echoed Michaeli’s words. 

“The Impeachment Law has passed – a personal law that is all about strengthening Netanyahu’s rule. … There is no softening, no stopping, and there are no restraints. I call on everyone to come out and demonstrate today against the judicial reform that is [continuing to] progress and endangers us,” Gantz said

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s office revealed last month that it opposed such a law, since it would dramatically limit cases in which a sitting prime minister is declared unfit for office, believing it would create a legal “black hole.” 

“There is a difficulty in limiting the situations for suspension to only a lack of physical or mental fitness, while changing the existing law that recognizes other potential situations,” said Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon. 

“We believe that the combination of the bill’s components together could lead to absurd situations, in which a prime minister continues to serve in the role despite lacking the ability to do so,” warned Limon. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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