Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has ratified a law which would bar police from publicizing information about their criminal investigations, a measure opposition says is aimed at softening scrutiny of corruption probes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The so-called “recommendations Bill” passed its final reading in the parliament on Thursday, with 59 lawmakers voting in favor and 54 opposed after a 43-hour filibuster.
The law will prevent the police from publicly saying whether they have found sufficient grounds for charges against Netanyahu, among other officials. The Israeli public would then have to wait until the attorney-general decides on the cases, and announces his decision.
The final version of the legislation stipulated that the law would not be in effect regarding investigations that predate its ratification. Therefore, it would not apply to probes currently underway against Netanyahu.
The bill, tabled by Netanyahu’s rightist Likud party, also proposes a one-year jail term for officials leaking findings to the press. Critics have, however, slammed the measure as the “anti-police law” aimed at shielding Netanyahu.
The opposition Yesh Atid party announced it would submit a petition to the High Court of Justice against the legislation on Thursday.
“The sweeping ban on releasing the recommendations critically impairs the public’s right to know, the freedom of the press and the freedom of political expression,” states the petition.
On December 3, Netanyahu called for the bill to be amended so it did not apply to the criminal investigations against him.
Netanyahu is involved in two separate corruption cases and investigators have questioned him several times.
The cases involve allegations that Netanyahu received lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen and negotiated a deal with a newspaper owner for more favorable coverage. He has denied any wrongdoing.
One of the ongoing investigations against him, reportedly related to the gifts, is carried out under “caution,” meaning that Netanyahu is suspected of committing a crime.
Judges have acquitted Netanyahu of charges that he had sought personal interest in a multi-billion dollar military deal with a German company to procure modern submarines.
Israelis have been holding weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv, urging Netanyahu to leave office and to stand trial over repeated allegations of graft while in office.