Netanyahu dodges question on law that could stop his prosecution
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Netanyahu dodges question on law that could stop his prosecution

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ says PM of legislation that would give him immunity even after his criminal court case begins on March 17; Gantz: It’s us ‘or Erdogan’

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused on Wednesday to rule out legislation after the election to provide him immunity from conviction, even after his criminal trial has began, saying in one interview that “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” before later, apparently backtracking, saying he would not personally legislate such a law.

Netanyahu’s corruption trial will open just two weeks after Israelis head to the ballot box on March 2 for the third time in under a year.

Asked if he wanted to pass a version of the so-called French Law that would prevent a prime minister from being convicted — in Netanyahu’s case, even after his trial has begun — the prime minister told Radio Jerusalem, “I have not dealt with the French Law. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Later, speaking on Galei Yisrael Radio, Netanyahu appeared to try walk back those comments when asked if he planned to pass the legislation in the next Knesset if he won the elections and managed to form a government. “I will not legislate the French Law and I will overturn all the allegations against me in court,” he said.

Knesset House Committee Chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) leads a discussion on canceling the 2013 law limiting the number of ministers, at the Knesset, May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last year, following the April election, speculation swirled that Netanyahu was conditioning entry to a government on potential coalition parties’ support for a law sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Shortly after the election, Netanyahu ally Likud MK Miki Zohar submitted legislation aimed at granting the prime minister immunity from prosecution, even as Netanyahu claimed he wasn’t behind the bill. With the ongoing political deadlock, the law was never advanced.

Any law passed now to protect Netanyahu, however, would have to provide him immunity from conviction, and not just prosecution, since his trial is set to have already started by the time any coalition is formed,

On March 17, just two weeks later, Netanyahu will begin his criminal trial in which he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has dismissed the charges as a witch hunt by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to oust him from office.

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed indictments against the prime minister with the Jerusalem District Court, charging the premier with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. It marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister was indicted.

Responding to Netanyahu’s initial dodge of the question over the French Law, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz charged  that the prime minister was eroding Israeli democracy.

“Turkey is already here,” Gantz tweeted. “Netanyahu revealed this morning his true intention — fleeing from justice after the election. He has no boundaries.”

The Blue and White chairman said the election was a choice between his party “or [Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip] Erdogan who is hiding away in Balfour.” Balfour Street is the address of the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Earlier this week Gantz said “anyone who wants to be part of my government will sign a guidelines document that will include a commitment to oppose any such initiative. I call on all party leaders to commit today not to lend a hand” to the French Law.

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