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Israel’s High Court holds hearing on whether to bar Netanyahu from prime minister role

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A man holds the Israeli national flag, during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right to form a government since he is facing a criminal trial. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

A man holds the Israeli national flag, during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right to form a government since he is facing a criminal trial. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

May 3 (UPI) — Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday heard arguments on whether to allow Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition government to lead the country despite his indictment on corruption charges.

The court heard eight petitions filed by advocacy groups and opposition figures arguing that members of Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset, who are indicted of corruption charges cannot be appointed prime minister.

During the hearing, the court heard from members anti-corruption watchdog groups that brought the challenge to Netanyahu’s appointment as prime minister and representatives of various government parties who urged the court not to intervene.

The hearing comes after Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz reached an agreement last month to establish a unity government following three national elections that failed to produce a clear winner.

Under the agreement, Netanyahu would remain prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz replacing him afterward.

The petitions filed against Netanyahu argue that while serving as a caretaker leader, Netanyahu is not protected by an Israeli law stating prime ministers are not legally required to step down if charged with a crime.

“This is part of the difficult problem in Israel today. Corruption has become acceptable,” Eliad Shraga, founder of the Movement for Quality of Government in Israel told the court.

Shimi Brown, a lawyer representing Gant’s Blue and White Party, told judges Sunday it would be “improper and extremely unreasonable” to rule in favor of barring Netanyahu’s appointment after the Blue and White and his Likud Party reached the agreement.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut called on the petitioners to provide legal basis for the court to keep Netanyahu from power despite approval from his peers in the government.

“Show us something! A law! A verdict! From this country’s [history]! From [somewhere else] in the world! Something!” Hayut said. “After all, [you’re asking us to set] a global precedent! You want us to rule without a basis simply according to your personal opinion?”

Protesters also gathered for demonstrations on Saturday evening and during the trial on Sunday calling for the court to rule against Netanyahu and the government.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the judges would issue a verdict and on Monday the court is set to weigh separate petitions questioning the legality of the deal between Netanyahu and Gantz as it would reduce the legally mandated term for prime ministers from four years to three.

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