Gali Baharav–Miara, Israeli Attorney General, is weighing the possibility of declaring the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ineligible for office due to a potential conflict of interest caused by his current criminal trial.
This week or next, the Attorney General is set to convene with high–ranking judges and Justice Ministry personnel to review whether Netanyahu has a conflict of interest with the judiciary. Even though these meetings are just intended to be introductory, legal professionals have indicated to Haaretz that the more the prime minister‘s conflict of interest increases as a result of his trial, the more likely the AG will be to require him to suspend himself from office.
Last week, the Attorney General had to reiterate to Netanyahu that he is still obligated to follow the conflict-of-interest agreement he put into effect three years ago, which is applicable to his current legal situation, thus making this scenario a possibility.
Netanyahu signed an agreement three years ago with then–Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to prohibit him from making judicial appointments and interfering in legislative matters that could affect his trial. This agreement was created to prevent Netanyahu from being deemed unfit for office.
While the Jerusalem district court is currently in the process of trying Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust, he is pushing for the passing of a controversial judicial reform package proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
This package includes the judicial override clause, the politicization of the judicial selection process, and the weakening of the power of the attorney general. If the coalition in power is able to control the Judicial Selection Committee, it could have a direct impact on the outcome of Netanyahu‘s trial, as it could potentially promote the judges involved in his case.
In response to a petition filed by the “Movement for Quality Government in Israel” and members of Bastion of Democracy, represented by attorney Dafna Holz–Lechner, Baharav–Miara put forward the opinion that Netanyahu‘s 2019 conflict of interest arrangement was still in effect, and submitted it to the Supreme Court.
The petitioners called for Netanyahu to execute a conflict-of-interest agreement to stop him from forming a government. In response, Attorney General Baharav–Miara wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, which was attached to her response to the petition, expressing her job is to aid elected officials in accomplishing their policies as per the law.
She further stated Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon should be contacted for any queries on the opinion or the Prime Minister‘s activity.
Additionally, she suggested discussing any conflict-of-interest arrangement with the legal adviser to the Prime Minister‘s Office, Shlomit Barnea–Farago, who could also offer advice on the matter to Netanyahu.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut declared that an extraordinary situation has arisen, demanding a strict adherence to principles of conflict of interests in the case of a Prime Minister being indicted for serious crimes concerning their professional integrity.
She further noted that it was essential that any such decision–making and public visibility should ensure that the personal matters involved in the indictment should not affect the Prime Minister‘s role as head of the executive authority.
In response to this, Prime Minister Netanyahu released a statement in 2021, contesting the Attorney General‘s right to have such extensive authority in removing a sitting Prime Minister, as this authority was not granted to them by any law, and legislators had chosen not to disallow the Prime Minister from continuing to serve in office even if they were facing an indictment.
In November 2019, Mandelblit expressed opposition to Netanyahu being dismissed from his post, asserting that the current situation did not provide a sound foundation for a legal decision that would bar the prime minister from executing his responsibilities.