Middle East

After protests, Netanyahu calls for change to draft bill restricting police powers

Israelis take part in a protest against corruption in Tel Aviv, Israel December 2, 2017 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for changes to a controversial draft bill on police investigations so it does not apply to criminal probes involving him, according to a statement released on Sunday.

It comes after tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the bill in Tel Aviv on Saturday, which some see as being designed to protect him as he faces two separate graft investigations that have led to speculation over whether he will eventually be forced to step down.

The controversisal bill would put limits on police investigators by prohibiting them from publicising 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 the ongoing investigations in which he is a suspect, but its supporters said it is intended to protect suspects' legal rights and reputations.

"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."

Police are investigating Netanyahu over suspicions he received expensive gifts from wealthy supporters as well as over allegations he sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with a newspaper publisher. He denies any wrongdoing.

The 68-year-old has been questioned by police six times in connection with the investigations. He denies any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s allies have also been questioned by police as part of a separate probe into the purchase of German submarines.

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the submarine investigation.

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.

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