Seeking immunity from prosecution is not anti-democratic, but rather a “cornerstone of democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud party activists at an event on Sunday evening.
Speaking to supporters at a Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that, within two days, he would announce his decision as to whether or not he will seek immunity from the corruption charges against him.
“The only immunity I am seeking right now is immunity from idle propaganda,” he declared, attacking the rival party Blue and White for “talking crap all day with immunity, immunity, and more and more immunity.”
Netanyahu has long evaded questions on whether he will seek to avoid criminal charges through immunity. A request from the Knesset for immunity is seen as unpopular among all voters, even among many of the prime minister’s supporters. A poll published Sunday evening by Channel 12 news found that 51 percent of Israelis oppose such a move, while only 33% support it.
Netanyahu must announce whether he wants to seek immunity in the coming days, or automatically forfeit his right to do so. Though the premier is far from guaranteed to get a Knesset majority to support an immunity bid, merely asking for it will delay any potential trial by months.
His request must by weighed by the House Committee before it can be voted upon by the plenum, but due to the lack of a functioning legislature amid an ongoing political deadlock, and new elections set for March, the Knesset will only be able to review and decide on his request after a coalition is formed — if it is formed — following the March 2 vote.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in November announced his intention to indict the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.
Commenting on Tuesday’s upcoming High Court hearing on whether he could form a government given his current legal woes, Netanyahu said that “only the people are the sovereign.”
At the same event Sunday evening, Likud party activists heckled MK Gideon Sa’ar, as Netanyahu’s rival walked into the party gathering.
Even as well-wishers greeted the former minister at the Likud Hanukkah candle-lighting event, video footage aired by Hebrew media showed Netanyahu supporters showered Sa’ar with shouts of “Bibi” and “traitor,” highlighting the resentment that his bid for the Likud leadership engendered among members of the party base.
Netanyahu trounced Sa’ar in the Likud leadership race Thursday, winning some 72.5% of the party vote.
The contest was the first significant challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud in more than a decade, but he maintained the support of the vast majority of the party’s Knesset members and its prominent local leaders and activists, and can thus utilize the result as a boost ahead of Israel’s third general elections in under a year.