Knesset lawyer spurns Likud demand he recuse himself from immunity deliberations

Knesset lawyer spurns Likud demand he recuse himself from immunity deliberations

Justice minister Amir Ohana and MK Miki Zohar went after Eyal Yinon for his involvement in PM’s request for parliamentary immunity despite wife’s role in state prosecution

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at a meeting of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, February 23, 2016.
 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at a meeting of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Wednesday rejected claims by the Likud party that he has a conflict of interest over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s parliamentary immunity proceedings, after it emerged that his wife had worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases in the state prosecution.

“I reject this claim entirely,” wrote Yinon in a letters to Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Justice Minister Amir Ohana. “It is my hope that public officials will be treated with respect… by senior politicians, even if their professional opinions are not to their taste.”

He said there was no basis to the claim that he had acted inappropriately.

Zohar and Ohana have led a Likud campaign demanding that Yinon recuse himself from any decisions relating to the formation of a Knesset committee to deal with Netanyahu’s immunity request, and withdraw an earlier ruling okaying it.

On Tuesday, Ohana accused him of a “serious conflict of interest” because his wife Amit Merari was part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases, immunity for which was to be debated by the as yet unformed Knesset committee.

“It is not possible to accept a situation in which [he] will decide, either indirectly or directly, on the affairs of the prime minister due to the decisions in which his spouse participated,” he said.

Zohar, the Likud’s faction whip, also contacted Yinon’s office urging him to recuse himself and deriding him for the opinion he issued saying that the panel could convene before the upcoming elections.

“To allow the Knesset to be used as a political chip by the left during an election recess is hugely absurd,” Zohar said.

On Monday, Yinon denied reports that he had recused himself from dealing with the issue, arguing that his wife’s involvement in the cases did not put him in conflict of interest at this stage, and alleging attempts to “intimidate” him.

In 2017, he and Merari signed a conflict of interest document declaring that he would not deal with issues related to cases she has worked on, according to Channel 12.

Yinon argued that the decision over setting up the Knesset committee was not directly related to immunity but rather to parliamentary procedure.

On Sunday, he authored a legal opinion saying the interim Knesset could convene the House Committee that would debate the prime minister’s request for immunity. Netanyahu had sought to delay the immunity proceedings until after the March elections, as a majority of lawmakers in the current Knesset oppose his bid.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu requested immunity from prosecution in three criminal cases last week, but is reportedly banking on lawmakers being unable to swiftly set up a committee and discuss his request, thus pushing off the process until after the March elections. Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein must okay any meeting of the Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural parliamentary issues such as the makeup of other committees and is needed to create the House Committee.

On Sunday he asked Yinon for clarification regarding his powers, drawing the Knesset adviser into the case.

Ohana threatened this week that Yinon could face criminal charges for breach of trust if he continued to be involved in the decisions over Edelstein’s abilities to allow or block the panel.

He said if Yinon did not immediately recuse himself, he would ask Edelstein to order him to do so.

Edelstein is also facing pressure from Blue and White, which has threatened to seek his ouster if he blocks the committee or drags his feet. The party says it has 65 MKs who support it being convened.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein arrive for a joint event of the Knesset and the US Congress, celebrating 50 years since Jerusalem’s reunification, at the Chagall state hall in the Knesset, on June 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.

Under a 2005 change to the Knesset immunity law, members of the legislature no longer receive automatic immunity from prosecution but must request it from the plenum when relevant.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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