Give me immunity or give me time: 7 things to know for January 2
Israel media review

Give me immunity or give me time: 7 things to know for January 2

Netanyahu asked the Knesset for protection from the lawman, but he’s seen as having almost no chance of getting anything but a few extra months, or elections forever

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

1. Save me, Knesset: As expected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that the Knesset grant him immunity Wednesday, hours before a deadline for such a request.

  • Netanyahu defied reports from earlier in the day that he was seeking to downplay the move, instead calling a press conference for 8 p.m. — thus ensuring that he was the center of attention as Israelis turned on their TVs for the nightly news.
  • The request for immunity is seen by many in the media as a historic first, albeit not in a good way. Channel 12 news reports that only three other lawmakers in the Knesset’s history have ever requested or not waived immunity, and one of them is Netanyahu apparatchik Haim Katz, who was also recently charged. This is, natch, the first time a prime minister has ever asked for it.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the decision was not easy for Netanyahu, who remained undecided on it until the last minute. “Ministers who met with him throughout the day said they did not recall ever seeing him so bothered,” the paper reports, specifically over the idea that the public would not buy the idea of him asking to be above the law.
  • But in the same paper, columnist Nahum Barnea claims that the indecision was just a show to make it seem like Netanyahu was forced into the immunity against his will.
  • Indeed immunity is a tough sell, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, calling Netanyahu’s appearance “one of his worst performances to date.”
  • “It wasn’t one of his usually meticulously planned speeches but rather a garbled eleven-minute peroratio,” he writes.

2. No immunity for you: It will take until March to know if he managed to win over enough voters to back the move — which needs to be okayed by the Knesset —  but he got some instant feedback right after the speech, with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman saying that his party would vote against immunity, after months in which he appeared to leave the door open to doing so.

  • Moments later, party MK Oded Forer announced that Yisrael Beytenu was joining the group of parties pushing for his immunity to be discussed by the current Knesset and not by a new Knesset after elections.
  • Taken together, the two announcements are seen as essentially sinking the PM’s chances of actually receiving immunity, not to mention the fact that he would likely also have to survive a High Court challenge, likely by changing the High Court.
  • “That he will get the votes for parliamentary immunity is a long shot; that he could then muster the votes to remake Israel’s democratic balance seems beyond improbable,” writes ToI founding editor David Horovitz.
  • Raviv Drucker writes for Channel 13 news that if Liberman follows through and the relevant committee is able to meet now instead of after March elections, Netanyahu “will be in a terrible, horrible position.”
  • Yedioth columnist Sima Kadmon writes that “one can say with full confidence, as much as one can be confident of anything these days, that Netanyahu will not find a majority for immunity, and not just because of Liberman. … There will also be those who oppose it from within his own coalition.”

3. Third or fourth time’s a charm?: Likud is broadcasting that it’s not buying everything Liberman says, tweeting a picture of a headline quoting Liberman vowing to avoid third elections alongside a headline of him vowing to avoid fourth elections.

  • Kan reporter Michael Shemesh also points out that Liberman said he rejected setting up the relevant immunity-weighing committee just a few weeks ago, and has now gone back on that.
  • “When Liberman commits to something, it’s no reason to get excited,” he tweets.
  • Israel Hayom reporter Ariel Kahana tweets out one of the stranger attacks on Liberman, noting that Netanyahu held Liberman’s foreign minister seat open while he fought his own court case, and now this is how Liberman repays him.

4. In Edelstein’s court: Whether the Knesset committee that needs to discuss the immunity request will be formed is now in the hands of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who must greenlight any meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which would be the body to set up the House Committee, which would then be allowed to discuss and (likely) reject immunity for the prime minister.

  • Netanyahu is going off the working assumption that Edelstein, a Likud member, will make sure that does not happen, Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi reports.
  • “There are no, and there will be no, Knesset committees during the hiatus,” a Netanyahu associate tells Zman, referring to the break before a new Knesset is sworn in. “Nothing like that has happened in 70 years. Edelstein won’t lend a hand to that, it’s absurd.”
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal opines that even if the committee did get to meet, there is no way its members would have time to discuss Netanyahu’s request in all its breadth, especially because they would need to first decide on Katz.
  • “The chance that a House Committee will be formed, that it will manage to debate it and make a decision — are zero. Immunity proceedings are a long, time-consuming process with lawyers,” he tweets.
  • Israel Hayom’s Gideon Alon, claiming that he has covered many hearings on immunity, writes that from his experience, decisions in the committee are not always made on the basis of their righteousness: “Political considerations are the deciding factor at the end of the day, and it’s clear ahead of time that Netanyahu’s lawyers will not convince the MKs from Blue and White, Labor, Meretz, the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu to give him immunity, even if they show clear evidence for it.”

5. Not all immunity is the same: A number of media people are scratching their heads over what kind of immunity Netanyahu wants.

  • Knesset Channel journalist Ron Notkin notes that while Netanyahu claimed in his speech he was requesting a type of immunity that is only temporary —  meant to allow him to continue his job and face justice later — in reality the request contained a number of claims that he should enjoy the other type of immunity, in which an MK is protected from being charged with something illegal in the course of his parliamentary work (like negotiating with a terrorist), which is permanent.
  • Kan points out that this means Netanyahu is claiming that in Case 1000, he received expensive cigars and champagne from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan “as part of his work as an MK.” Sounds nice.
  • In Zman, Nati Yefet writes that even though the letter claims the right to the permanent kind of immunity, in actuality because charges were already filed it is no longer relevant and the lawyers really meant that he is seeking the temporary kind.

6. He could be a criminal, but at least he’s ours: Israel Hayom is in Netanyahu’s court as much as ever, running a front page headline trumpeting immunity as “in order to fulfill my mission.”

  • Columnist Amnon Lord, among others, parrots Netanyahu’s talking points on why he should not need to face justice now: “There’s something irrational from the point of view of the state of Israel, or any country, carrying out a judicial assassination of a prime minister who is leading his country to a situation in which all the indicators are positive: The economy, security, diplomatic opportunities.”
  • In Yedioth, Amichai Eteli offers somewhat less full-throated support, but support nonetheless: It’s hard to say that the request is a model of ethical behavior, but this is what politics looks like and Netanyahu is playing within the existing rules of the game.”

7. Immunity in every pot: Netanyahu will need more than a smattering of right-wing columnists if he hopes to not only stave off an immunity discussion but do better than he did in the last two elections in order to get his right-wing bloc to 61.

  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes that by requesting immunity, the prime minister is trying to place winning an election as a greater decider of justice than a court case, kind of like the trial by combat shtick in “Game of Thrones.”
  • “By announcing that he plans to base his immunity request on the claim that a trial could cause ‘real damage … to the representation of the electorate,’ Netanyahu has also set up a mighty battle against the very nature of the prosecution of a prime minister,” he writes.
  • According to Yossi Verter in Haaretz, Netanyahu is just hoping to prolong elections forever, and stay on as a caretaker prime minister as long as he can.
  • “For him, the best-case scenario would be a fourth round of elections, and then a fifth, and so on. Even if the right-wing, religious bloc gets 61 seats, it’s doubtful that all of them would support his immunity request. And even if they do, the High Court of Justice is likely to overturn that decision, as it has done in the past in less serious cases. Netanyahu knows that all the roads lead to trial, but as noted, he’s playing for time,” he writes.
  • By making the election about his immunity, and thus almost certainly dooming the right-wing to be stuck in another deadlock with Blue and White, Netanyahu is saying that “his personal interests are more important, much more than the national interest.”
  • In an attempt to turn the claim on its head, Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that Gantz is depending on the court system to save him from being unable to win at the polls.
  • “He’s asking now for a third time for outside help from the court system,” he writes. “If he really believed in himself he would say great, Netanyahu should get immunity, and we’ll face each other in the way democracies make decisions, at the ballot box.”
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