Prime Minister Netanyahu in a cabinet meeting on May 12, 2019, during which he announced the location of a new town, named after President Trump, to be built in the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)
The Knesset officially listed legislation this week meant to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and all MKs immunity from criminal proceedings, after it was submitted by Likud MK Miki Zohar.
The initiative came days after Netanyahu’s office denied that the immunity bill would be included in coalition agreements, though that does not preclude the coalition from passing it anyway.
Zohar rebuffed accusations that he is doing Netanyahu’s bidding in submitting the bill. “The prime minister blocked the immunity bill in the last Knesset,” said Zohar. “He said he’s not interested, which is why I was not successful in promoting it.”
Speaking at the opening of a Knesset House Committee meeting, Zohar noted that the passage of the bill, “is not part of coalition negotiations. I am trying to convince the prime minister to support it in the current Knesset… We are sick of political persecution, and therefore, the immunity bill is right – and I plan to try to promote it even without instructions from Netanyahu.”
Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata retorted: “Citizens aren’t allowed to steal, but MKs are.”
Zohar’s remarks sparked a heated debate in the House Committee meeting, which convened on a different matter entirely: canceling the 18-minister limit for the size of a government.
The immunity bill comes after Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit recommended to indict Netanyahu for three counts of fraud and breach of trust and one of bribery, pending a pre-indictment hearing.
Zohar argued that Netanyahu’s case proves the necessity of his bill, because “this is the first time someone is being accused of bribery without putting an agora in his pocket. I have two law degrees and I know the legal definition of a bribe.”
The legislation – which Zohar proposed last month, but was only put in the Knesset’s public database on Monday – is identical to one he submitted late last year, which states that, “an MK will not be put on trial for crimes committed while he was an MK or before he was an MK, unless his immunity was removed for the accusation being discussed.”
Immunity would not apply to traffic violations and cases in which the law states that the punishment is to pay a fine.
If MKs were under indictment when they were elected to the Knesset, all criminal proceedings would stop from the time they become MKs.
For an MK’s immunity to be revoked, the attorney-general would have to submit a request with the indictment to the Knesset House Committee, which would then bring it to a vote before the entire Knesset.
This would bring back the legal situation that existed before 2005. Currently, MKs are not immune to criminal proceedings, but can ask the committee for immunity within 30 days of being charged.
Opposition MKs slammed the bill, and some Blue and White MKs posted photos of themselves on social media, holding a sign that says “I give up on my immunity.”
MK Gabi Ashkenazi dedicated his first-ever tweet to a photo of himself with the sign in the Knesset cafeteria.
“For this battle, I am willing to go on Twitter,” Ashkenazi wrote. “The immunity bill is only for those who have what to fear. We are not afraid of the law; we respect the law.”
The Likud’s spokesman brought up the Harpaz Affair, which began in 2010 with fighting between then-defense minister Ehud Barak and Ashkenazi, who was IDF chief of staff. It involved the two spying on each other, and a forged document meant to undermine Likud MK Yoav Gallant, who was Barak’s candidate to replace Ashkenazi. After nine years of investigations and proceedings, the only person indicted in the affair was Boaz Harpaz himself, who forged the document about Gallant.
“We don’t need preaching about morality from Gabi Ashkenazi, who defrauded investors in the Shemen company out of millions” – when it did not find oil in the Negev – “and brought the stinking corpse called the Harpaz Affair into the IDF General Staff,” the Likud spokesman said.
Water and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, long considered a close Netanyahu ally, joined the ranks of Likud MKs criticizing the immunity bill.
“We’ll weigh the matter, and I hope we don’t get there and won’t need it – and that like the prime minister said, after a hearing, it will turn out that these [accusations] disappear,” Steinitz said at an event for Likud activists in recent days, according to a recording played on Kan 11 on Monday night.
The comments come after MK Gideon Sa’ar, a rival of Netanyahu, called the bill damaging to the prime minister and to the Likud, and said he is not the only one who thinks so. New MK Michal Shir joined Sa’ar in opposing the proposal soon after.
Other Likud MKs, however, have tried to use the bill as a way to pledge fealty to Netanyahu in hopes that he will be more likely to appoint them as ministers, and the prime minister lamented to them that he will not get a fair trial, Channel 12 reported. The Likud denied the report.
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