Netanyahu loyalist said to file bill to grant PM immunity from prosecution

Netanyahu loyalist said to file bill to grant PM immunity from prosecution

MK Miki Zohar reportedly joins URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich in seeking legislation that would allow premier to skirt corruption charges if filed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Likud ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has submitted legislation aimed at granting the premier immunity from prosecution, according to a Channel 12 news report Friday.

MK Miki Zohar filed the bill on Thursday, together with a raft of other legislation left over from the last Knesset, the report said.

The bill proposes that Netanyahu and any other MK would by default be granted immunity from prosecution unless the Knesset House Committee — which Zohar himself chaired in the last legislative term — voted to strip the lawmaker of that right.

By submitting all of the immunity bills together, Zohar believes that it would allow for multiple drafts to be ready for a vote at a moment’s notice, according to Channel 12.

It was not clear if Netanyahu was aware of Zohar’s move.

Speculation has swirled that, following his reelection last month, Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength 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 a potential coalition party’s 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. Netanyahu has publicly given mixed signals about whether he will seek such legislation.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.

Last month, Zohar carried out a media blitz explaining his efforts to exonerate Netanyahu in the three corruption cases against him.

Likud MK Miki Zohar attends a committee meeting at the Knesset on November 30, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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.

“The people decided that the cases [against Netanyahu] aren’t criminal in nature,” Zohar argued in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

In February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in the three cases. The prime minister denies all the allegations.

Mandelblit on Monday said that the results of the general election would have no bearing on his decisions in the criminal 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.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on March 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Mandelblit rejected suggestions by some politicians that Netanyahu’s reelection in the April 9 vote should bring an end to the criminal process against him. “It has been claimed that there may be some connection between the election process and its results, and the criminal proceedings in progress,” he said. “I will state what is obvious to me: The criminal process does not intersect with the election process. Neither is it influenced by it.”

Quoting from a 1993 ruling in a corruption case against Shas party minister Rafael Pinhasi, Mandelblit said: “The will of the people does not supplant the rule of law, and cannot replace it.”

Zohar is not the only lawmaker seeking to prevent Netanyahu from conviction. Union of Right-Wing Parties No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich has not hid his intention to ensure immunity for the premier in the upcoming Knesset. However, the hardline lawmaker is looking to get something in return.

A spokesman for a senior URWP lawmaker told The Times of Israel last week that the far-right party is demanding that Netanyahu commit to annexing all Israeli settlements in the West Bank in exchange for the slate’s support of legislation that would grant the premier de facto immunity from prosecution.

The two parties held talks on Friday and are slated to meet again next week.

Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich at the party’s 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The URWP amalgam is made up of the national religious Jewish Home and National Union parties along with Otzma Yehudit, a radical group led by self-proclaimed disciples of the late American rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned in Israel in the 1980s for racism.

In a move seen as a bone to Netanyahu, Smotrich has said he will put forth during coalition negotiations a bill he proposed during the previous Knesset that would ensure automatic immunity to any member of parliament.

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