Justice minister: Knesset speaker should block vote on Netanyahu immunity panel

Amir Ohana says Yuli Edelstein is the ‘official who decides’ whether plenum will convene to approve formation of committee that’ll weigh PM’s immunity request

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (R) embraces Amir Ohana after the latter's appointment as justice minister, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (R) embraces Amir Ohana after the latter's appointment as justice minister, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Saturday said Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein should not call a plenary vote to form the committee that would weigh Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity from corruption charges.

Edelstein is under pressure from Netanyahu’s political rivals to hold a vote on forming the House Committee, after Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon ruled the panel could be convened ahead of the March 2 election.

The Knesset speaker, who said he disagreed with Yinon’s legal opinion but would abide by it, is also facing pressure from Netanyahu and his allies to block the plenum from voting to form the committee.

“Edelstein said something interesting: ‘I don’t accept the legal opinion of the [Knesset] legal adviser.’ And now I expect him to stand by his words,” Ohana told Channel 12 news Saturday.

Ohana, like Edelstein a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, argued the Knesset speaker was not bound to convene the plenum — and should not do so.

“In a democracy, there is a public at the head of which is the Knesset speaker and he is the chosen official who decides if deliberations will take place or not,” he said.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Amir Ohana entertains Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud gathering. (Hadas Porush/Flash90)

The justice minister also addressed Likud’s claims that Yinon should not have been allowed to issue his ruling due to a “serious conflict of interest” stemming from the fact that his wife, Amit Merari, is part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases.

While acknowledging the conflict of interest, Yinon said Thursday in response to a High Court of Justice petition filed by Likud MK Miki Zohar that his legal opinion had no bearing on the actual cases against Netanyahu or the expected immunity proceedings in the Knesset.

Ohana’s comments came a day after Blue and White party member Avi Nissenkorn called on Yinon to intervene over 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 Yinon’s legal opinion that the House Committee can be convened even with the Knesset being in recess, Nissenkorn said Edelstein 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.

In an interview Saturday with Channel 13 news, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said he was sure Edelstein would do the “right thing” and call a plenum vote.

“I don’t want to sit here and threaten the Knesset speaker,” he said.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (L) and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at the Knesset on May 7, 2013. (Flash)

Yinon ruled Sunday that Edelstein does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming the 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.

Meanwhile, factions representing a majority of Knesset members are calling on Edelstein to allow a plenary session to take place as soon as possible.

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.

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, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit cannot open trial proceedings against him.

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