Israelis call for US sanctions on Netanyahu under Global Magnitsky Act

Elis Gjevori

Middle East Eye  /  March 2, 2023

Opponents accuse PM of seeking to dismantle the checks and balances system and institutional corruption.

Israeli opposition organizations and activists have called on the US government to impose sanctions on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to stop the country from “sliding into a full dictatorship”.

In an open letter on Wednesday, more than 700 activists called on the Biden administration to initiate the Global Magnitsky sanctions, which target foreign government officials deemed as corrupt or human rights offenders.

The letter coincided with a “national day of disruption” that saw thousands of people protesting a controversial government plan to overhaul the judicial system.

Protesters blocked vital roads and burned tyres on highways in several Israeli cities.

Police violently dispersed the crowds, wounding several people, and arresting 28.

“These days, Prime Minister Netanyahu is working with all his might to turn the state of Israel into a full dictatorship, in order to stop or cancel his criminal trial for serious corruption cases,” Eitay Mack, the lawyer who published the open letter, told Middle East Eye.

The signatories said that since winning the elections in November, Netanyahu and his extreme far-right allies have embarked on a carefully planned scheme to dismantle Israel’s delicate checks and balances system.

“His actions in recent years are a clear example of the corruption’s ability to corrode democracy, and clearly justify imposing sanctions on him according to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, enacted in December 2016,” the authors wrote.

‘Abolishing democratic norms’

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and the judicial reforms could enable him to evade conviction or see his case dismissed. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has publicly railed against the justice system, calling it biased against him.

“In a series of bills that his government is promoting, PM Netanyahu is working to abolish the independence and professionalism of the courts, law enforcement agencies, the public service, and the media, and put all of them under the absolute and direct control of his government,” the letter read.

Mack said Netanyahus’ reforms would see corruption become “institutional without any boundaries and an integral part of the Netanyahu government’s ‘governance’ system”.

“In addition, Netanyahu… appointed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to head a team to combat ‘incitement’, which is expected to engage in the censorship of the opposition,” he added.

In an open letter in January, prosecutors and state attorneys who have served in Israel over the past half-century warned that planned reforms to the country’s justice system would “destroy” judicial independence.

If implemented, the reforms would turn the supreme court into a “pseudo-political body that would be suspected of bending the law in favour of the government”, they said in an unprecedented defence of the judicial system. 

“In reviewing the state department’s list of those who have been sanctioned in recent years, it is clear that there is no justification for excluding PM Netanyahu,” said Mack.

Elis Gjevori is a journalist based in Istanbul