Israeli ministers push controversial bill on political donations

Legislation could allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep $270,000 given by his cousin

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) chairs a weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. EPA
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Israel's Ministerial Committee on Legislation formally advanced a bill on Sunday that could allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep $270,000 he received from a now-deceased cousin to pay for legal costs as he fights corruption charges.

Last October, the country's High Court ordered the money to be returned on the basis that it amounted to an illicit gift.

Mr Netanyahu has been on trial since 2019 over alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He has labelled his prosecution a political “witch hunt”.

The new bill would significantly change the current laws by allowing public servants to accept donations to cover legal and medical costs, including for family members, provided that the money is used only for those purposes.

The proposal, which was backed by Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, was criticised by Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who told Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Sunday that it was a “harmful” change that “has the potential to open a real door to government corruption”.

Omer Makayes, director of the Anti-Corruption Movement watchdog, told The Times of Israel that the proposal appeared to be “personally tailored” to help the Prime Minister in his trial.

The move comes after more than two months of fierce local and international opposition to drastic legal reforms that Mr Netanyahu's far-right coalition is seeking to pass in parliament. Opposition leader Yair Lapid recently called on the government to “stop this insane legislation”.

The government says the judiciary has too much power, has a bias against right-wing politics and gives legal officials disproportionate power to interfere with decisions made by the people's elected representatives.

Knesset member Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionist Party told Israeli media last month that “in the Israeli context [the reforms] might be huge. But when I talk to my [colleagues] across the ocean, they say ‘you’re just stating the obvious’".

Updated: March 06, 2023, 9:32 AM