Netanyahu seethes as Knesset moves to debate his immunity request

Netanyahu seethes as Knesset moves to debate his immunity request

PM says Blue and White ‘hijacking’ Knesset, has ‘zero achievements;’ Lapid scorns PM for summoning ministers for meeting over his personal issues

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at his rivals in the centrist Blue and White, accusing them of commandeering the Knesset to push him out of power, after lawmakers voted Monday to form a committee that will debate, and is widely expected to reject, his request for parliamentary immunity.

After a two-hour deliberation, lawmakers in the Arrangements Committee voted 16 to 5 in favor of establishing and staffing the key House Committee, which will see the prime minister’s backers outnumbered by his rivals on the panel. It remains unclear when the House Committee will be staffed, a move that requires a full plenum vote, and when the hearings will be held.

Blue and White is hoping that the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the March 2 election. Likud sources have said that they will try to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other challenges, hoping to push it past March 2, when a new Knesset will be voted in.

“Blue and White has zero achievements for Israeli citizens to show, so they hijacked the Knesset to advance their only campaign — ‘Just not Bibi,’” tweeted the prime minister, using his nickname.

“Bless them. We will come to the citizens of Israel with our incredible achievements and with the amazing achievements we will soon bring, for the sake of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu added referring to his campaign for the upcoming elections.

Netanyahu announced on January 1 that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases in which he has been charged, submitting the request hours before the legal deadline. But he had anticipated the matter would only be debated in the next Knesset term, after the March elections, by which time he would hope to have won a parliamentary majority.

The prime minister will hold an emergency meeting with his right-wing and religious political allies on Tuesday to discuss his immunity bid, Channel 12 television news reported on Monday.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, on December 25, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Blue and White party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid scorned the meeting for bringing together senior government ministers who will, he said, spend their time just discussing Netanyahu’s affairs.

“The prime minister will tomorrow gather an emergency meeting with the defense minister, the interior minister, the health minister, the education minister and the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee,” Lapid tweeted. “They won’t talk about security, education or health. Only one subject: his immunity. That’s it. The whole of Israel’s political leadership will tomorrow deal only with Bibi’s personal issues. Not on a single one of [the issues facing] the country’s citizens. Enough with this. Moving on.”

Several members of the 55-MK bloc supporting Netanyahu will be on the House Committee panel that will debate the prime minister’s request, but will not have a majority.

The committee will have 30 members “to ensure representation for all factions,” said Arrangements Committee chair MK Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White: eight seats apiece for Blue and White and Likud; three seats for the Joint List; two apiece for Shas, Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism; and one seat each for the Democratic Camp, the Jewish Home, and the New Right.

That leaves the prime minister with 14 out of 30 votes.

Arrangements Committee Chairman MK Avi Nissenkorn, center and Knesset members vote during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Formation of the House Committee still requires a full plenum vote in the Knesset, which Nissenkorn said he hoped would be held this week. A majority of the 120 MKs, crucially including Avigdor Liberman’s eight-seat Yisrael Beytenu, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.

The prime minister and his supporters argue that the House Committee should not be formed because the Israeli government is in transition, and also because there is insufficient time before the elections for the committee to properly weigh the immunity requests.

Netanyahu, in November, became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he would indict the prime minister for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

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