By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM -Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stay out of his government’s push to overhaul the Israeli judicial system, the country’s attorney-general said on Thursday.
Netanyahu faces a potential conflict of interest, Gali Baharav-Miara said in a statement, citing the prime minister’s corruption trial in which he has denied wrongdoing.
Netanyahu had no immediate comment. His justice minister, Yariv Levin, accused Baharav-Miara in a statement of “seeking to prevent the prime minister from voicing his positions” regarding reforms that, he said, would have an impact on her authorities.
Now in his sixth term astride a hard-right coalition, Netanyahu argues the judiciary has overstepped its bounds in recent years. Members of his coalition have also described the Supreme Court as elitist and out of touch with the public.
But the plans to strengthen political control over bench appointments while weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn legislation or rule against the government have brought tens of thousands of Israelis onto the streets in nationwide protests.
Critics of the proposed changes say they will politicise the judiciary and compromise its independence, undermining democracy, fostering corruption and harming the economy.
Netanyahu has defended the plan, apparently seeking to assuage fears investors will bolt Israel if it is eventually written into law.
“I think it’ll help the Israeli economy in a major way,” he told Fox Business Network’s Kudlow on Wednesday, adding that the judicial shake-up would help cut back unnecessary litigation.
S&P Global Ratings director Maxim Rybnikov has told Reuters the proposed changes could pressure Israel’s sovereign credit rating and dozens of economists have urged Netanyahu to scrap the plan.
Expanding the protest into a new arena, Israeli environmental groups on Thursday raised their objection to the proposed judicial changes.
The groups rely on the courts to wage battles against threats to nature and public health, said Life and Environment, a federation representing the country’s leading pro-environment organizations.
“It has becomes clear to us that the changes being discussed for the legal system are expected to seriously harm our ability … to act in the interest of the environment and health,” the group said in a letter to Netanyahu and Levin.