The Likud lawmaker who is proposing a new bill to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from prosecution in three corruption cases mockingly warned left-wing lawmakers on Monday that they could be stuck with an “irrelevant High Court” and Netanyahu as premier “for another 10 years.”
During a Monday evening debate on his proposed legislation granting lawmakers immunity from prosecution, MK Miki Zohar, chair of the powerful Knesset House Committee, interrupted Meretz lawmaker Michal Rozin as she castigated the proposal and demanded to know “what you will do” if the coalition passes sharp new curbs on the power of the High Court of Justice to overturn laws deemed unconstitutional, as well as the new immunity rules for MKs.
“How can you hide this embarrassment?” Rozin could be heard telling Zohar in footage from the Monday evening meeting aired Tuesday on Channel 12, after she accused him of compromising his integrity and seeking to weaken the Supreme Court solely to protect Netanyahu.
In the video, Zohar interjected in the already noisy Knesset conference room. “MK Michal Rozin, imagine: The override clause passes [limiting the High Court’s power to review legislation], so you can no longer go to the High Court. The immunity law passes, and you’re stuck with Bibi [Netanyahu] for another 10 years. What will you do? What will you do?” he demands mockingly.
As other lawmakers chimed in to respond, he continued to speak in a mocking tone and smiling, “Oh my God. I think this could shape up as one of the most difficult [Knesset] terms ever for you. The High Court no longer relevant, Bibi here for another 10 years. Oh my God.”
Rozin retorted that would be “the end of democracy,” saying “in short, you have an Erdogan here,” referring to the Turkish president who has pushed through sweeping constitutional changes to enable him to remain in power and has jailed or dismissed tens of thousands of public servants and journalists.
“What Erdogan?” Zohar replied. Netanyahu “is here democratically. He was voted in.”
Zohar officially submitted legislation late Monday night aimed at granting the prime minister immunity from prosecution, even as sources close to the premier continue to deny he intends to change the law in order to prevent an indictment being filed against him.
The bill proposes that MKs be granted immunity from prosecution by default unless the Knesset House Committee — which Zohar chaired in the last legislative term and is expected to continue to helm in the 21st Knesset — votes to strip the lawmaker of that right. The bill would reverse the current system, in which MKs are not automatically immune, but can be granted immunity by fellow MKs.
Opposition lawmakers lashed out at Zohar on Tuesday.
Blue and White co-chair MK Yair Lapid pointed to the bill and mocked Netanyahu’s claims to neutrality in the immunity fight.
“‘I’m not dealing with [the] immunity [law], but the MK closest to me who never acts without a direct order from me proposed the immunity law as if it was his idea.’ That’s Netanyahu’s claim. The war for our democracy has begun,” Lapid tweeted on Tuesday morning.
Zohar replied to the tweet on Tuesday with a laconic, “Yair, stop lying to the public.”
Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, a former Likud defense minister, vowed his party would fight to prevent the bill from becoming law.
The legislation was intended for the benefit of just one person, Ya’alon, a former Likud minister, told the Ynet news site, and it would “turn the Knesset in a refuge for criminals, led by Netanyahu.”
Blue and White lawmakers announced a protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday against the measure.
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich said the bill was “proof” that Netanyahu’s focus in coalition talks was protecting himself from prosecution.
“Everyone with clean hands must be enlisted to save the country from the hands of those who trample on it to save their necks,” she said.
Speculation has swirled that, following his reelection last month, Netanyahu may use his victory — which his allies have touted as proof that Israelis don’t want to see him indicted — to advance legislation that would immunize him from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister. He is reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on potential coalition parties’ support for one of a variety of possible legislative initiatives, including the change to the current immunity law sought by Zohar and/or a so-called French Law sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution.
It has also been reported that Netanyahu wants to advance legislation that would prevent the High Court from subsequently overturning a Knesset decision to grant him immunity, as part of a highly controversial legislative initiative to curb the court’s judicial review powers, which allow it to overturn Knesset legislation deemed unconstitutional.
In response to those reports, Netanyahu last week wrote in a Facebook post that he has always supported “a strong and independent court — but that does not mean an all-powerful court.”
In February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in three cases, dubbed by police 1000, 2000 and 4000. Charges include fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, and bribery in one of them. The prime minister denies all the allegations.
Prior to the April 9 elections, Netanyahu gave mixed signals when asked whether he would seek to evade prosecution by means of Knesset legislation to guarantee himself immunity and to prevent the High Court from overturning that immunity. On one occasion, in a late March television interview, he dismissed the idea but then backtracked within seconds.
On May 15, a Channel 12 report said Netanyahu had conclusively decided to use legislation to avoid prosecution for as long as he remains in office.
It said Netanyahu and members of his close circle had begun briefing Likud MKs “on how to market this to the public.”
Last month, Zohar launched a media blitz explaining his efforts to extricate Netanyahu from indictment in the corruption cases against him.
The ruling party’s dramatic election victory meant that prosecutors should reconsider pursuing criminal charges against Netanyahu, Zohar said, arguing that indicting a victorious Netanyahu would amount to subverting the public will.
Through their votes, “the people decided that the cases [against Netanyahu] aren’t criminal in nature,” Zohar argued in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.
Mandelblit said earlier this month that the results of the general election would have no bearing on his decisions in the cases against Netanyahu. And in strongly worded comments, the attorney general called allegations that the premier was being framed — such as have been made repeatedly by Netanyahu himself — “nonsense intended to delegitimize the law-enforcement system.”