JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that a draft bill that sets limits on police investigators should be revised so it does not apply to criminal probes in which he is a suspect.
The proposed legislation, which has sparked protests in Israel, would prohibit the police from publicizing whether they have found sufficient grounds to charge a suspect.
Critics say the bill is an attempt to protect Netanyahu and keep the public in the dark regarding ongoing investigations in which he is a suspect, but its supporters said it is intended to protect suspects’ legal rights and reputations.
Some 20,000 Israelis demonstrated against the bill in Tel Aviv on Saturday and, as public pressure mounted, support among coalition members for the bill began to wane on Sunday, a day before parliament was expected to ratify it.
“For the debate on the bill to be topical and not be used for political propaganda, I have asked … that (it) be worded so that it does not cover the ongoing investigations in my matters,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.
With ratification of the legislation delayed, he said he had told the bill’s proponent, David Amsalem, a lawmaker from his own right-wing Likud party, that it had become a “political battering ram against the government.”
But in justifying the legislation, Netanyahu said: “The bill is intended to prevent publication of police recommendations which would leave a cloud over innocent people, something that happens every day.”
Netanyahu is a suspect in two cases. In one, he is alleged to have meddled in the media industry and the other concerns gifts he received from wealthy businessmen. He denies any wrongdoing.
But, if charged, he would come under heavy pressure to resign or he could call an election to test whether he still has a mandate to govern.
Netanyahu has in the past said he had no interest in promoting personal legislation but he also did not order the bill’s sponsors, Amsalem, and David Bitan, another Likud confidant, to withdraw it.
Netanyahu has described himself as a victim of a political witch hunt and said he will be cleared. “There will be nothing because there is nothing,” he has said repeatedly.
(This story removes extraneous text from first paragraph)
Reporting by Maayan Lubell, editing by Ori Lewis and Jane Merriman