Gantz says PM ‘unfit’ for office over attempt to bring Kahanists into Knesset

Gantz says PM ‘unfit’ for office over attempt to bring Kahanists into Knesset

Blue and White’s Nissenkorn demands Knesset legal adviser intervene over House speaker’s failure to convene plenum to push forward on Netanyahu immunity request

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement for media in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement for media in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Friday assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reportedly threatening Defense Minister Naftali Bennett earlier this week that he could lose his job if he failed to unite his New Right party with other small right-wing factions — including the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

“Anyone who is willing to use Israel’s security to bring Kahanists into the Knesset is not fit to be the prime minister of Israel,” Gantz wrote on Facebook. “Anyone who trades in national security for personal benefit and uses his leadership position [to advance] his personal fortunes cannot be prime minister.”

Members of Otzma Yehudit are often referred to as Kahanists over their support for late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

Gantz said the past week had put on display “everything that is ugly about our politics.”

Bennett eventually united his party with National Union and Jewish Home to once again form the Yamina alliance, but would not budge on Otzma Yehudit.

The latter party’s leader Itamar Ben Gvir was left in the cold Wednesday when Jewish Home broke its agreement with him in order to join Yamina. He has vowed to run alone, though the latest polls have shown the party’s odds of entering the legislature remain low.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to reporters at the Knesset, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Though Netanyahu made efforts to unite Otzma Yehudit with other small parties to prevent the loss of right-wing votes if it falls below the electoral threshold, since his effort failed he has moved on to urging the party to quit the race.

Also Friday, Blue and White faction chairman Avi Nissenkorn called on the Knesset’s legal adviser to intervene over Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s failure to move forward on a request by Knesset members to review Netanyahu’s immunity request in his three criminal cases.

Noting adviser Eyal Yinon’s legal opinion that the House Committee — which must weigh the request — can be convened despite the Knesset being in recess ahead of the March 2 election, Nissenkorn said Edelstein of Likud had failed to call the plenum to vote on forming the committee, despite appeals by a majority of MKs that he do so.

Blue and White has reportedly threatened to oust Edelstein if he fails to convene the plenum by early next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with then-education minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session on November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yinon ruled Sunday that Edelstein does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a House Committee, which is usually not convened in a transitional government.

Members of the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted Monday 16 to 5 in favor of establishing and staffing the key committee, which weighs immunity requests. A vote on the establishment of the committee must also take place in the Knesset plenary open to all 120 MKs, a majority of whom, crucially including Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.

Edelstein, a member of Likud, is now facing pressure from Netanyahu and his political allies him to block a plenary vote on forming the House Committee, while factions representing a majority of Knesset members are calling on him to allow a plenary session to take place as soon as possible.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Once formed, the House Committee is likely to debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, perhaps even days, long before election day on March 2.

The prime minister and his supporters have argued that the House Committee should not be formed because the Israeli government is in transition, and also because there is insufficient time before the elections for the committee to properly weigh the immunity requests.

So long as Netanyahu’s immunity request is not brought to a vote, the attorney general cannot open trial proceedings against him.

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