Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling government is attempting to pass a law that would make sitting prime ministers immune from some forms of criminal investigation.
Although the final wording and list of crimes in the legislation are still in flux, the basics of the bill are that a head of government would be allowed to serve out his or her term before police could look into whether the prime minister broke the law. A committee of Cabinet ministers will review the bill this week before deciding whether to advance it to Parliament.
If it passes, however, the immunity bill would not immediately shield Netanyahu from the many corruption probes that have been circling his administration for months. In its current form, the legislation would not apply to investigations that are already open, although Israel’s Haaretz reports that calling for new elections may provide Netanyahu a loophole.
The pressure on Netanyahu has increased in recent months as authorities have ramped up their investigations, which included the announcement of fraud charges against his wife, Sara, in early September. She is accused of misusing $100,000 in public funds.
The investigations heated up in August, when Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow turned state’s witness in order to avoid jail time in his own fraud case.
Harow is thought to be a witness in one of the two major corruption investigations into Netanyahu’s personal dealings. In the case known as File 1000, police are looking into whether the prime minister and his family improperly accepted lavish gifts from billionaire backers.
The other major case, File 2000, concerns whether Netanyahu attempted to negotiate with the owner of one of Israel’s largest newspapers to gain positive media coverage. In exchange for the favorable press, he allegedly offered to damage a rival publication.
Minister of Parliament David Amsalem, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, first proposed the bill last year but denied it was related to any of the investigations of the prime minister. In January, Israel’s justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, said she backed the bill.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will debate the immunity bill on Sunday, after which its chances of actually passing will become clearer. Past attempts at immunity bills for prime ministers have been voted down, including one while Ehud Olmert was prime minister.
Olmert was found guilty of fraud and bribery after leaving office. He was released from prison in July after serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence.