Political clash over Netanyahu’s immunity escalates

The Knesset legal adviser’s decision that immunity can be discussed during the current parliamentary term has Netanyahu confidantes irate.

By World Israel News Staff

Due to the inability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and major challenger MK Benny Gantz of Blue and White to form a new governing coalition over the course of nearly nine months, following Knesset elections in April and September, the Israeli parliament has been only partially functional for this prolonged period.

As part of the parliamentary paralysis, and ahead of yet another election called for March 2, the Knesset House Committee, which normally handles procedural matters, does not currently exist. One of its responsibilities is normally to handle any requests for immunity.

Last week, in the final hours before a 30-day deadline to make such a request after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted details of criminal indictments against the prime minister to the Knesset, Netanyahu announced that he would, in fact, ask parliament for immunity.

In his public statement, the prime minister noted that immunity lasts only for as long as the term of the current Knesset lasts.

However, say advisers to the premier, his working assumption was that without a Knesset Committee, there could be no deliberation on his request until after the March election.

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A monkey wrench was thrown into that logic on Sunday when Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon issued an opinion stating that a House Committee could be set up to deal with the immunity request immediately.

MK Miki Zohar, whip in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, called the decision “absurd.”

There has been a longstanding norm in the Knesset not to pass legislation that is clearly aimed at benefiting or harming a particular individual or entity. While this case does not involve legislation, it does potentially mean that a committee is being established to benefit or harm the prime minister.

Accusing the Knesset legal adviser of a conflict of interest, legal expert Rabbi Dr. Haim Schein wrote in a column in the Israel Hayom newspaper, “There is no democratic reality in which law enforcement authorities are seen as serving ulterior political objectives.”

Media reports have stated that Netanyahu was hoping that immunity would not be a major issue in the lead-up to the March election so that the campaign could concentrate more on his achievements than allegations against him of fraud, breach of trust, and involvement in bribery.

Adding to the anxiety in Netanyahu circles is the fact that a key figure in setting up the House Committee would be a Blue and White MK who might do whatever he can to spotlight the criminal charges as a political ploy.

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Recent public opinion polls are showing Blue and White gaining a few more seats than the Likud in the upcoming election.

In a sign of Likud anger over the legal adviser’s decision, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, number two on the Likud list under Netanyahu, is said to be looking into whether he has the authority to prevent the convening of the House Committee despite the presentation of the legal opinion.