Former Likud minister says Netanyahu immunity bid may stop her voting for party

Limor Livnat says PM’s backers ‘blindly’ follow him ‘through fire and water’; calls on lawmakers not to vote out of fear on his request for protection from corruption prosecution

Then Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat (left) talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on December 8, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat (left) talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on December 8, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former minister Limor Livnat, who served in the Knesset as a member of the Likud party for over two decades, said Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution in corruption cases could prevent her from voting for the party in the March elections.

On Wednesday Netanyahu announced that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution in the three cases where he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust, as well as bribery in one of the cases. He denies wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.

“There is no doubt that what happened yesterday was significant and puts me in a not so simple position,” Livnat told the Kan public broadcast radio when asked if the development would influence her vote in the March elections.

“It depends what happens, with developments. This is a different Likud,” she said but refused to comment further on how she would vote on March 2.

Livnat, who served in various ministerial roles including education minister, said Likud supporters are blindly following Netanyahu. She urged Likud lawmakers to vote their conscience if the immunity request is brought before the Knesset, and not allow career considerations to influence their decision.

“They follow Netanyahu through fire and water, enchanted, blindly,” she said. “I call on my fellow [Likud] members to not vote automatically [on granting immunity]. Don’t vote because they are afraid, or are worried about later retribution.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces his intention to seek Knesset immunity from prosecution, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The indictments announced by the attorney general in November will not be lodged in court unless or until the prime minister’s immunity request is rejected, potentially holding up proceedings for months.

Before the Knesset can vote on granting immunity the request must be debated by the Knesset House Committee, which due to a political deadlock that has lasted for nearly a year, is dormant.

Pressure mounted Thursday for lawmakers to resurrect the committee so that it can either reject the immunity request, or send it to the Knesset for a vote. If the immunity ask is brought to the current Knesset, Netanyahu is not guaranteed a majority to back his efforts. With the announcement Wednesday by former coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman that his party will not back granting immunity, Netanyahu’s bid seemed even less likely to succeed.

Questions have arisen, though, over whether lawmakers could exhaust the proceedings and reject the immunity request before the March election, and it remained unclear whether Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a senior Likud lawmaker, could wield his parliamentary powers to obstruct efforts to deal with the immunity request by then. A source Thursday said Edelstein will prevent a Knesset discussion on the matter.

Yisrael Beytenu party chief MK Avigdor Liberman attends the Calcalist conference in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu and his bloc of right-wing and religious parties hope the March election will secure the 61 seats they need to form a majority in the 120-Knesset, greatly easing the path to immunity.

Livnat announced in December 2014 that she was leaving politics. Two weeks earlier, Livnat, at the time culture and sports minister, had stayed away from a cabinet meeting that approved an initial draft of controversial legislation defining Israel as a Jewish state. The following week she lamented in an Army Radio interview that Likud was “not the Likud of old,” and had shifted to the right.

In 1997, Livnat led an initiative at the Likud Central Committee to oust Netanyahu as party leader. Relations between the two soured but bounced back, and Livnat served as culture and sports minister in the Netanyahu government in 2009 and again in 2013.

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