Likud MK: Blue and White has 'hijacked the Knesset'

In blow to Netanyahu, lawmakers vote to set up panel to debate his immunity

Proposal to establish House Committee passes 16 to 5, allowing lawmakers to potentially vote on, and likely dismiss, Netanyahu’s request to evade prosecution

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Members of the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted Monday in favor of establishing a House Committee, the only parliamentary panel able to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request.

After a two-hour deliberation repeatedly interrupted by Likud MKs — much like a separate committee debate that took place earlier Monday — lawmakers voted 16 to 5 in favor of establishing and staffing the key committee.

The committee will have 30 members “to ensure representation for all factions,” said Arrangements Committee chair MK Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White: eight seats each for Blue and White and Likud; three seats for the Joint List; two apiece for Shas, Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism; and one seat each for the Democratic Camp, the Jewish Home and the New Right.

Nissenkorn, who called the establishment of the committee “an absolute necessity,” agreed to Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer’s proposal to also establish all of the other permanent Knesset committees that have been dormant during the past year of election recesses.

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn (C) opens the Knesset Arrangements Committee, January 13, 2020. (Knesset)

The formation of a House Committee still requires a full plenum vote in the Knesset, which Nissenkorn said he hoped would be held this week. A majority of the 120 MKs, crucially including Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.

After storming out of the morning’s meeting, which was called to approve Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon’s ruling limiting the Knesset speaker’s powers to block meetings, Likud faction chair MK Miki Zohar also left the afternoon’s debate in a huff, this time claiming that the rival Blue and White party had “hijacked the Knesset” and vowing to challenge the meeting, which he said was illegitimate, in the High Court.

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn leads a meeting of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Today, 61 MKs have hijacked the Knesset during the election recess. You do as you please with the majority of the Knesset that has lost public trust,” he said. “We will not take part in any debate or any vote. We are giving you the keys to the Knesset.”

The afternoon’s vote means that the House Committee can debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, perhaps even days, long before election day on March 2.

Likud sources have said they will try to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other challenges, hoping to push it past March 2, when a new Knesset will be voted in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 12, 2020. (Tsafrir Abayov / POOL / AFP)

Blue and White is hoping that the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the election.

Once created, the House Committee will also field an unrelated immunity request by Likud MK Haim Katz, who also faces graft charges.

The prime minister and his supporters 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.

Netanyahu, in November, became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict the prime minister for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

Netanyahu announced on January 1 that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution, submitting the request hours before the legal deadline. But he had anticipated the matter would only be debated in the next Knesset term, after the March elections, by when he would hope to have won a parliamentary majority.

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