Likud MK decries online abuse against him for denouncing immunity bill

Likud MK decries online abuse against him for denouncing immunity bill

‘Incitement, intimidation and threats won’t work,’ says Gideon Sa’ar, after breaking party ranks to slam proposed legislation that would shield PM from prosecution

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

Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a conference in Jerusalem organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, on June 19, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90/File)
Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a conference in Jerusalem organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, on June 19, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90/File)

A top Likud MK on Sunday said he has been hit with a torrent of online abuse since declaring he would oppose legislation granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution.

In a post on his Twitter account, Gideon Sa’ar shared a screenshot of a Facebook page calling him a “traitor,” which included an edited photograph of him wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

“One of many examples of the raging incitement on social media since the weekend. Incitement, intimidation and threats won’t work,” he wrote.

The Facebook post received no condemnations from Likud lawmakers, but was denounced by MK Yair Lapid of the opposition Blue and White party.

“This is what happens when someone criticizes the ruler in Turkey. This is a dangerous development and needs to be stopped now,” Lapid tweeted.

In an interview last week, Sa’ar, an influential Likud lawmaker who has clashed with Netanyahu in the past, became the first lawmaker in the ruling party to come out against the prime minister’s reported plans to advance a law protecting him from indictment in a series of corruption cases.

“This legislation offers zero benefit and causes maximum damage,” Sa’ar said in an interview with Channel 12. A number of Likud lawmakers blasted Sa’ar over the remarks, while party sources told Hebrew-language media that the Knesset member was trying to topple Netanyahu.

Freshman Likud MK Michal Shir, a former aide to Sa’ar, later came to his defense and said she also opposes “personal legislation” that could protect Netanyahu from being indicted.

Netanyahu repeatedly insisted in the run-up to the elections that he would not push for legislation granting him immunity. However, several recent reports have suggested he has decided to move forward with plans to pass a new immunity law to avoid prosecution in the criminal cases against him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Gideon Sa’ar, during a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also Sunday, former Likud lawmaker Benny Begin blasted Netanyahu’s apparent attempts to secure immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases.

“I am witnessing this with great sadness,” Begin, the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, told Israel Radio. “The prime minister hiding behind the shield of immunity as a Knesset member, with or without legislative changes, is a corrupt act.”

The 76-year-old Begin, who left the Knesset on April 30, after serving as a Likud lawmaker for 18 of the last 30 years, in March launched a scathing attack on the premier, for “attempting to assassinate the public’s trust in law enforcement institutions” with his attacks on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has announced charges against Netanyahu, pending a hearing.

Benny Begin with Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Benny Begin (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu speak in the Knesset in 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The prime minister is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in on of them. Netanyahu, who by law is entitled to a pre-trial hearing with the attorney general before an indictment is formally filed, has denied any wrongdoing and claims the corruption accusations are aimed at forcing him from office.

A spokesman for the premier said Friday that an immunity law would not be a part of Likud’s coalition agreements with other parties to join the next government.

However, analysts said Netanyahu was likely to push ahead with some kind of legislation, noting that he had the support of his potential coalition partners even if it is not part of the signed deals.

Last week, the Haaretz daily reported that Netanyahu was planning to promote a bill allowing lawmakers to overrule administrative decisions by the High Court of Justice, including any ruling that opposes granting the premier immunity through legislation or a Knesset decision.

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