Israel PM has one week to answer contempt claim: Top court

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Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu one week to respond to contempt of court accusations filed by a non-governmental organisation.

The complaint by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an anti-corruption group, stems from Netanyahu's televised address Thursday night.


He vowed to “responsibly advance” controversial judicial reforms pushed by his government and “end the rift” they have caused in the nation.

Around 200,000 protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday to oppose the reforms, Israeli media reported, and high-level officials have called for a pause in the project.

Detractors see it as threatening Israel's democracy, but the government argues changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.

Netanyahu is on trial over charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.

The NGO's complaint, seen by AFP, alleges Netanyahu violated an agreement with the court that an accused prime minister does not have the right to act in a matter that could constitute a conflict of interest.

On Friday, Israel's Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the prime minister's televised declaration “and all interventions on your part on the process” of adopting the judicial reforms “is illegal”.

The prime minister must “avoid any involvement in changes in the judicial system and particularly in the process of nominating judges, as this places you in a situation of conflict of interests,” Baharav-Miara argued in an open letter published by the justice ministry.

In May 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that an indicted prime minister has no right to act on a matter that could place him in a conflict of interest.

The NGO alleged Netanyahu violated “the conflict of interest agreement prepared by the government's legal adviser”, in accordance with the Supreme Court verdict.

It called for a fine, imprisonment or other sentence appropriate for contempt cases.

Lawmakers are to vote this coming week on a central part of the government's proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.

Plans to hand more control to politicians and diminish the role of the Supreme Court have been questioned not only by Israelis but by top allies including the US.

Hours before Netanyahu spoke on national TV, lawmakers passed legislation imposing strict conditions for declaring a prime minister unfit for office.

The opposition called it a “personal law” serving Netanyahu.

On Sunday, the country's top court gave him and other parties involved until April 2 to respond to the NGO's complaint.

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