Immunity politics

According to media reports, there is a push to legislate immunity from the corruption charges Netanyahu faces.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambles to form his next coalition, he is also facing a pre-indictment hearing. He has received an extension to the 28 days that the law permits him to form his government – and he is trying to do everything to bring on board the partners he wants, including canceling a limit on the number of ministers.
Most distressing is that Netanyahu’s legal troubles continue to overshadow his political choices. According to media reports, there is a push to legislate immunity from the corruption charges he faces. Netanyahu would like to present this as merely strengthening the government, but then why not pass a law that only comes into effect with the next prime minister?
We’ve seen this before. Israel went to elections in 2015 after Netanyahu had been challenged in the Knesset by a law seeking to ban free newspapers, apparently targeting Israel Hayom, which supported the prime minister. Although Netanyahu claims that he always does what is best for the country, there is a feeling that he often plays cynical politics with laws, whether it is this latest immunity push or previous legislation.
This gives rise to less confidence in the government, the very institution he claims to want to strengthen. For instance, if the coalition is primarily about keeping Netanyahu in power and free from prosecution, then the government will be unstable, which weakens Israel in the face of rising Iranian threats and trouble in Gaza.
The prime minister faces numerous cases today, including Case 4000, in which he is suspected of trading benefits for favorable news coverage; Case 1000, where he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust; and Case 2000, which relates to backroom deals about such coverage.
Now there are concerns that in return for supporting his coalition, Netanyahu will ask for a bill that would allow for overturning Supreme Court judgments and guarantee immunity from prosecution while in office. To pass those laws, he may have to give in to far-right demands. That could include a bill to deport asylum seekers or numerous other contentious issues, such as annexing settlements or removing the Jahalin Bedouin from their Khan al-Ahmar shantytown. The public does not receive the transparency needed, but the concern is that Netanyahu might give away the store just to keep his office.
Concerns across Israeli media, much of which are critical of the prime minister, echo the concern that Netanyahu is now open to pressure and blackmail from his potential coalition partners. There is evidence that the prime minister has tried to slow everything down regarding the case. He took time to collect the case files, even though his pre-indictment hearing is now scheduled for July 10.
According to reports, Netanyahu’s lawyers don’t think the July 10 date is enough time to examine the case files. But this begs the question: How can this be possible when these cases appear to have gone on and on? The delaying tactics have continued since April. Similarly, Netanyahu’s endless coalition discussions drag on under the excuse that there were recent holidays.
There are more elephants in the room than just the possible indictment and the attempt to seek immunity. There will be a US peace deal rolled out next month after Eid al-Fitr. This could cause tensions and a crisis with the Palestinians. The UN has also warned of conflict in Gaza, and the US and Iran may be on the brink of conflict. However, on Balfour Street the prime minister is playing cynical politics when the country can least afford it.
He should be willing to face the pre-indictment hearing. Since he has claimed that there is nothing to the allegations, why does he need immunity? Potential coalition partners should not enable this horse trading; they should not seek to push some narrow agenda merely because they know the prime minister needs them now more than ever.
The country deserves strong governance, and it deserves a prime minister who will hold steady the ship of state, even if it means eventually facing the long-simmering accusations.