Courtesy of JNS. Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 2, 2023

(JNS) — Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, agreed on Thursday to hear a petition calling for the removal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the premiership due to an alleged violation of a conflict of interest settlement.

“Netanyahu violated the prohibitions and restrictions that apply to him as prime minister” and “acts in a conflict of interest,” the petition states.

It claims that despite the fact that Netanyahu is prevented by law from dealing with certain issues, he “declared explicitly and publicly that he intends to continue to act in violation of the prohibitions and restrictions that apply to him in the position of prime minister.”

The petition describes Netanyahu’s decision as “tainted by an extreme lack of reasonableness.”

The petition was signed by 39 senior officials from business, military, academic and other backgrounds. At the top of the list is former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz.

Attorney Dafna Holtz Lachner submitted the petition on behalf of a group calling itself “Fortress of Democracy.”

“The petition will be forwarded to the panel [of justices] for discussion as soon as possible,” the court said.

Lachner expressed “great satisfaction” with the High Court’s decision and said the prime minister’s disqualification “is the required result, because otherwise “there is no meaning” to conflict of interest prohibitions on elected officials.

However, leaders of the parties in Netanyahu’s coalition condemned the decision in a joint statement, saying that “an extreme political group led by Dan Halutz is trying to oust through a baseless petition an incumbent prime minister who was elected by a huge majority in democratic elections.”

“We are shocked by Judge Ruth Ronnen’s decision to hold a hearing on the petition, especially after the Knesset passed a law that prevents the impeachment of an elected prime minister with idle claims of the kind that are included in the petition,” they said.

“This is walking down a dangerous slope of fatal damage to democracy and the will of the people,” they added. “We and millions of citizens will not accept this, and we will not allow it.”

In November 2020, then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit determined that Netanyahu could not involve himself in certain decisions that could impact his criminal cases and therefore create a conflict of interest.

According to Mandelblit’s arrangement, which the High Court upheld in March 2021, Netanyahu could not take part in making appointments to law enforcement agencies, the Supreme Court or the Jerusalem District Court.

Netanyahu also could not influence ministers or officials with authority over issues related to his trial.

This past February, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Netanyahu that the conflict of interest arrangement extended to his involvement in his government’s judicial reform program, something to which he strongly objected, referring to it as a “gag order.”

“Imposing limitations on the prime minister, and in particular limitations implied by restrictions on his freedom of expression, actually harms the freedom of expression of millions of citizens who voted for him in democratic elections,” he said in an objection filed with the Supreme Court in early March.

Finally, in a March 23 television address, Netanyahu said he would no longer stand on the sidelines of judicial reform.

“We reached the absurdity that if I had entered this event, as my position requires, they threatened to compel me to take a leave of absence, which would nullify the results of the election and the will of millions of citizens,” he said.

“No more. I am entering the arena. I am laying aside any other consideration, for our people, and for our country. I will do everything in my power to find a solution,” Netanyahu said.

The High Court has rejected similar petitions in the past. In March, it rejected one to remove Netanyahu and fined the petitioners, the Israel Democracy Guard, 5,000 shekels (a bit under $1,400).

The court said the petitioners hadn’t exhausted other options before coming to the court. “Turning to the channel of judicial review should be used as a last and not a first alternative,” the justices said.