Likud’s Sa’ar says PM should not ask potential partners for immunity backing
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Likud’s Sa’ar says PM should not ask potential partners for immunity backing

Gideon Sa’ar, who has clashed with Netanyahu, says political considerations should not have a role in determining whether a lawmaker can avoid prosecution

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

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar speaks during a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar speaks during a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud MK Gidon Sa’ar said on Sunday that he did not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should condition entering a potential coalition after the elections on parties promising to grant him immunity from prosecution while in office.

Sa’ar, a popular former minister, has been derided by Netanyahu since returning to politics earlier this year over alleged plans to take the reins of the Likud party from him.

Sa’ar spoke at Channel 12’s Influencers Conference in Tel Aviv, where he was the only Likud representative after Netanyahu called to boycott the event due to Channel 12’s coverage of his legal woes, and said that the issue of immunity for Knesset members should go through the proper channels and not coalition deals.

“This is not a matter for coalition agreements, it is a topic that should be dealt with first and foremost in the House Committee and there the decisions must be made,” the former interior minister said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases against him, and bribery in one of them.

In the run-up to the September election, reports have surfaced claiming Netanyahu has demanded that Likud lawmakers and MKs from potential coalition partners agree to support granting him parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the graft cases as a precondition for joining his planned coalition.

To avoid prosecution in three corruption cases, Netanyahu would need to be granted immunity by a Knesset panel and by the full parliament in a majority vote, and might then need to enact legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the Knesset decision. (Israeli law allows a prime minister to remain in office until he or she is convicted by a court of a crime classified as bearing moral turpitude, and only when all appeals have been exhausted.)

Jurists, legal scholars and critics of the prime minister have warned such a measure would place Netanyahu above the law and could also remove important checks on the Knesset from the Supreme Court. On the other side, Netanyahu’s backers say the measure is necessary to keep the prime minister from having to deal with frivolous or politicized legal cases while trying to manage the country, and have blasted the Supreme Court as an undemocratic bastion of leftist activism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, left, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The prime minister denies the allegations and has insisted the investigations are part of efforts by the media and the Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team overseen by a “weak” attorney general.

According to Sa’ar, “political considerations” were not a valid reason to grant or remove immunity for legislators. “This is an issue where the decision should be made in a matter-of-fact way, in each case,” he said at the event.

Sa’ar, who has butted heads with Netanyahu in the past and recently returned to politics to the prime minister’s chagrin, was slammed from within his Likud party before April’s election for openly criticizing Netanyahu’s then-reported plan to pass a special law that would grant him immunity.

On Thursday, he defended his decision to disregard Netanyahu’s boycott of the conference, saying he “respects the decision of [his fellow Likud MKs] who chose not to come at their own discretion. My decision was that it was correct to appear. These are the essentials stages for us to express Likud’s positions in order to for Likud’s to achieve the best results.”

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