The bloc of right-wing and religious parties supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that all its members would boycott a Knesset plenum debate on Tuesday, during which the parliament is expected to green light the formation of a panel that will discuss — and likely reject — the premier’s request for immunity in three corruption cases.
Netanyahu and his loyalists invested immense efforts in trying to prevent the vote from taking place before the country goes to the polls in March, including threats against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, who eventually approved the debate after consulting the parliament’s legal adviser.
The boycott announced Sunday appears symbolic, since a majority of 65 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament have already said they will support the formation of the Knesset House Committee, the only body qualified by law to discuss immunity requests.
The plenum discussion will take place as Netanyahu is in Washington for the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace plan.
The premier’s main election rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, will meet Trump on Monday and will then travel back to Israel to take part in the Knesset deliberation.
Likud MK Miki Zohar accused rival parties, led by Blue and White, of acting in a manner “contrary to all the rules since the day of the Knesset’s establishment” by acting to set up the House Committee.
“We won’t take part in this and won’t cooperate in their election campaign of ‘just not Bibi [Netanyahu],’” tweeted Zohar, an ally of the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s political bloc includes the Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties. So far only UTJ has not confirmed that it will boycott Tuesday’s vote, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Blue and White denounced the move in a statement, saying: “It’s unfortunate that the head of the transitional government continues to disrespect the Knesset and the democratic rule and refuses to have his people take part in the discussion of the immunity request — which he initiated to evade justice. Netanyahu asked for a discussion of his immunity, and Netanyahu will get one.”
Netanyahu announced at the start of January that he would ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity, as he faced a legal deadline to do so, following Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to charge him in three corruption cases. Mandelblit cannot officially indict Netanyahu until the Knesset votes on his request.
Netanyahu has sought to prevent the forming of the House Committee to weigh his immunity request prior to the March 2 election, as under the makeup of the current Knesset it is all but assured of rejecting it.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims, without evidence, that the charges are part of an attempted “political coup” against him involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecution.