In reversal, Bennett says Yamina will back immunity for Netanyahu in graft cases
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In reversal, Bennett says Yamina will back immunity for Netanyahu in graft cases

Former education minister explains about-face by arguing that what country needs most is ‘stability’ as it goes to polls for second time this year

New Right No. 2 Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
New Right No. 2 Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In a reversal of his previously stated position, senior Yamina party member Naftali Bennett said his party will likely support granting immunity from prosecution to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing charges in three corruption cases.

In excerpts from an interview to be aired Saturday, Bennett told Channel 12: “Something extreme has to happen for us to oppose immunity for Netanyahu.”

The former education minister and ex-head of the New Right party (now merged into Yamina) explained his about-face by claiming circumstances had changed, and with Israel facing its second election in a year, what the country needed above all was “stability.”

To avoid prosecution, Netanyahu would need to be granted immunity by a Knesset panel and by the full House in a majority vote, and might then need to enact legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the Knesset decision.

As recently as July, Bennett had said that if he were part of the next government coalition, he would oppose legislation that would shield the prime minister from prosecution.

“My position is — we oppose any law that is personal and directed at one specific individual,” he told an Israel Democracy Institute conference. He said that “in general, I do support expanding the immunity laws for future prime ministers. Anything, personal, however, will be opposed by us.”

Then Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right during the Israel Prize award ceremony at the International Conference Center (ICC) in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In March, Bennett had said his party “will not support a law that will affect the current situation” — meaning the premier’s current legal predicament.

Those comments had come days after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Netanyahu would be charged, pending a hearing, with fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

As Netanyahu’s legal situation has become more precarious, his allies have increasingly talked up legislation that would protect him from prosecution while he remains prime minister.

One initiative, dubbed the “French law,” would state that a sitting prime minister cannot be investigated for offenses other than sex crimes, violence, drug abuse and security-related offenses, or if an investigation could damage national security or the economy.

Earlier this month, a newspaper report claimed that former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who took over from Bennett as New Right leader and now heads the Yamina electoral alliance, offered to use her purported influence with Mandelblit to ensure the closure of the corruption investigations against Netanyahu.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During this lobbying effort that Shaked is alleged to have sent messengers to various figures in Netanyahu’s orbit to offer what the Haaretz daily described as “full support for granting Netanyahu immunity and preventing his indictment.”

Shaked vehemently denied the report, calling it “a low and ugly attempt to slander me. If the statements quoted [in the report] were in fact said by someone, that’s very serious. But they have nothing to do with me and were not said with my knowledge. I’ve never spoken to the attorney general about criminal cases, and even more so when it comes to the Netanyahu cases.”

Following the report, Channel 13 news quoted associates of Mandelblit saying he never discussed Netanyahu’s criminal cases with Shaked and that he will oppose efforts to grant the premier immunity.

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