JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Cabinet ministers on Sunday advanced a bill that would allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep a $270,000 donation he received from a relative to pay for his legal bills as he fights corruption charges.
The bill is part of a proposed overhaul of Israel’s legal system by Netanyahu’s new government. The plan has drawn fierce protests for over two months in Israel, the largest seen in years.
Netanyahu has been on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for almost three years. He denies wrongdoing and says the accusations are part of a “witch hunt” orchestrated by a biased media, law enforcement and justice system.
Last year, Israel’s high court ordered Netanyahu to pay back the funds given by a late cousin to cover the legal expenses for him and his wife, Sara.
Sara Netanyahu became a target of the protests last week when demonstrators gathered outside a Tel Aviv salon where she was having her hair done. Scores of police officers were called in to escort her out of the salon and away from the jeering crowd.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would let public officials accept donations for legal or medical bills, despite vocal objection by the country’s attorney general that it would promote corruption.
A committee in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, also advanced bills to curtail the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review and give parliament the ability to override high court decisions.
Netanyahu’s allies say these changes are needed to reduce the power of unelected judges. But critics say they will eliminate checks and balances, concentrate power with the ruling majority and defang the Supreme Court. They also say that Netanyahu, as a criminal defendant, has a conflict of interest.
Those bills will now be brought before parliament for the first of three votes required to be passed into law.