Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to reporters, October 9, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed a report that he could use his parliamentary immunity to avoid being prosecuted, at a press conference Tuesday in which he announced his appointment of Amir Yaron as the next Bank of Israel governor.
Channel 2 quoted political sources Mon- day night saying that Netanyahu could ask the Knesset to vote to enable him to keep his immunity using a clause in a law passed 13 years ago that has never been employed.
“I don’t think that question will be practical, because I don’t believe I will be indicted,” Netanyahu said. “But I haven’t had the time to check it out yet.”
Earlier Tuesday, coalition chairman David Amsalem, who is close to Netanyahu, admitted he had indeed researched the law and said the clause definitely applied to the prime minister.
“Netanyahu must ask for immunity if charged,” Amsalem said. “If our democracy is in danger, something extreme must be done.”
Channel 10 quoted the head of a party in Netanyahu’s coalition saying that his party would back bills preventing him being prosecuted if he is reelected, because “toppling Netanyahu would twist the will of the voters.”
But Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said his Kulanu party would not sit in a government led by an indicted prime minister. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu should not “stoop to legal tricks.”
The law states that if the attorney-general indicts an MK, the MK can ask the Knesset to allow him to maintain his immunity from prosecution if the indictment that was issued “discriminates” against the MK.
Netanyahu has argued that Case 2000, the newspaper collusion affair, discriminates against him because other MKs sought the closure of the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom at the behest of the rival daily Yediot Aharonot and received positive coverage.
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Netanyahu is accused in Case 2000 of offering Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes to get Israel Hayom to close its weekend edition, which could have resulted in a massive sum in advertisements shifting to Yediot, in return for Mozes’s newspaper becoming less anti-Netanyahu.
The law also allows immunity to be requested if an indictment “will cause significant damage to the functioning of the Knesset or representing the public.”
Unlike asking to keep immunity, which can be passed in a simple majority vote, Netanyahu would have a harder time passing the so-called French Law, which bars prosecution of prime ministers and presidents while in office.
The French Law would have to be passed as a Basic Law, with a special majority and a lengthy legislative process. Another option for Netanyahu if he wins the next election and is indicted afterward would be to continue running the country while going through his legal processes and going on trial.
It is hotly debated whether an indictment could force a prime minister to resign if indicted with top experts, including Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit previously implying that the law might require a resignation for a serious charge such as bribery. It is also unclear that Netanyahu would have a viable claim of discrimination when the police did review potential charges against other politicians and simply found that Netanyahu’s case had a different set of facts. Moreover, there is no obvious target for a discrimination comparison regarding Case 4000, Netanyahu’s biggest problem. Finally, The Jerusalem Post has reported that if the Supreme Court is asked to determine whether Netanyahu must quit, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would likely not defend the prime minister before the court, which can be decisive legally.
At the press conference, Netanyahu said the timing of the next election remained an open question.
“We are trying to making an effort to solve conscription and other problems,” he said. “This effort will continue. If a path can be found, we will be happy to stay until the end of the year. It would give us nearly five years. If not, we will be forced to go to elections.”Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report
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