The Knesset on Wednesday voted against a legislation that sought to bar any individual under indictment from being able to form a government, prompting a heated row between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid.
Had the bill passed, it would have effectively prevented Netanyahu from running in the next elections since he would not have been able to form a government due to his criminal charges, which include fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
The bill was rejected after 53 lawmakers voted against the motion, with only 37 voting in favor.
Blue & White MKs, alongside Yamina leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, were absent from the vote.
Netanyahu took the Knesset stand and slammed the legislation as undemocratic, claiming such a bill better suits oppressive regimes, like the ones in Iran and North Korea.
"Where do they pass such laws to prevent elected officials from running? The only place these laws are passed are dictatorships – in Iran, in North Korea," said Netanyahu. "Yair Lapid, a thousand masks won't be able to cover your dictatorship. You and [Joint List leader Ayman] Odeh will not beat us at the ballot box, so on one hand you encourage left-wing demonstrations, and on the other hand, you present an Iranian law to the Knesset, to disqualify me from running for prime minister."
Netanyahu then mocked Lapid for not having a high school diploma or higher education, implying this made him unfit for the premiership.
"Your disdain of the right-wing and Likud voters is unforgivable. Everything about you is fake,” Netanyahu said. “You’re constantly pretending. Without a high school diploma, without a bachelor’s degree, you tried to get a fake degree,” he said in reference to Lapid being handed a doctorate for his extra-academic credentials in 2012, which sparked a wide controversy.
The premier also quoted Lapid's father, the late Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, who denounced a similar bill in 2004.
"Dr. Lapid, I suggest you stop acting to destroy our democracy," said Netanyahu. "Learn something from your father. You're a fake democrat. He was a real democrat, and I walk down the same path he did."
The Yesh Atid chairman then took the stand and recalled Netanyahu's remarks about former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert being unfit to be a premier when the latter faced his own graft charges over a decade ago.
Lapid also criticized Netanyahu's handling of the coronavirus crisis, with Israel seeing a surging number of cases alongside economic upheaval and high rates of unemployment.
"This crisis couldn't have been handled any worse, there is no direction, just a collapse," said Lapid. "He comes on TV and talks, and when you check the data, there's no correlation. The man is living in a virtual world where the world calls him and worships him. But we are in the real world."