Photo Credit: Erik Marmor/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Supreme Court President Ester Hayut at Yad Vashem, April 17, 2023.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Wednesday scheduled a hearing on a petition seeking to disqualify Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister due to a conflict of interest. The hearing is scheduled for September 12, and the Attorney General must respond to the petition by August 2.

On Sunday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court of Justice that in her opinion a petition demanding the firing of Prime Minister Netanyahu should be rejected outright. Last Thursday, Justice Ruth Ronen, who in the past served as the parliamentary aide of the late Meretz MK Yossi Sarid, accepted the petition, filed by a group calling itself “Fortress of Democracy,” which called on the High Court to order the PM to resign from his position on the grounds that he had violated his conflict-of-interest arrangement.

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Of course, the very notion that a Supreme Court judge would entertain the idea of overriding the votes of more than a million Israelis is in itself a terrifying illustration of the urgent need to curb the court’s virtually unlimited power.

The panel of judges that will hear the petition will include President Hayut, Judge Uzi Fogelman, and Judge Yitzhak Amit, none of whom are considered great friends of the prime minister. In fact, this may be the worst possible panel, short of one where Hayut is replaced by Judge Ronen, which may happen. The hearing is expected to take place less than a month before the end of Hayut’s term and her retirement. So, it could get worse.

The court initially rejected a similar petition to declare Netanyahu incapacitated after he intervened in the judicial reform legislation. The court ruled on that occasion that Netanyahu was not guilty of contempt of court, even though he violated his original commitment to the court to avoid dealing with judicial legislation that may place him in a state of conflict of interest.

The AG reprimanded Netanyahu at that time but told the court that the PM’s behavior did not constitute contempt of the court.

Attorney Dafna Holtz Lachner, representing the petitioner Fortress of Democracy, issued a statement saying, “It is evident from the court’s decision that the statement of the AG as if the issue of the Prime Minister’s conflict of interest is being handled as required is not sufficient and that there is factual doubt in the matter. We are satisfied with this decision and are sure that in light of the serious and powerful conflict of interest that Netanyahu is in, as a defendant in serious criminal cases, the court will discuss the issue of his competence seriously.”

In March, the coalition rewrote the law regarding the incapacity of a PM to emphasize that only the government and the Knesset are empowered to declare a serving PM incapacitated. This incapacity can be declared by the PM himself, or by three-quarters of the government ministers. If the PM objects to his government’s decision, he can take it to the plenum, where a majority of 90 MKs can override his objection.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.