Opposition politicians on Wednesday evening lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a report said he had resolved to push for legislation granting himself immunity from three pending corruption cases, despite repeatedly denying such intentions ahead of last month’s Knesset elections.
Having until now given mixed signals about whether he would seek to pass legislation in order to evade prosecution in the three criminal cases for which he faces indictment, Netanyahu has now taken the firm decision to push legislation to guarantee himself immunity from prosecution, the Channel 12 report said. The legislation has reportedly been discussed in the current negotiations on the formation of Netanyahu’s new coalition government.
Netanyahu and members of his close circle have begun briefing Likud MKs “on how to market this to the public,” the report said. They are being told to highlight the fact that voters reelected Netanyahu last month even though they knew all about the allegations against him, and that he should thus be empowered to see out his time in office and deal with his legal entanglements only after stepping down.
“A reminder: Throughout the election campaign Bibi denied he would be trying to promote an immunity law,” tweeted Yair Lapid, No. 2 in the Blue and White party, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
“Now he is trying to say: ‘This is what the public has chosen.’ Stop lying. The public chose you when you said you would prove your innocence, not arrange a ‘get out of jail’ card for yourself,” Lapid said.
“Be prepared for the battle of your life,” said Labor MK Itzik Shmuli. “No Bibi, the majority’s decision doesn’t tramp the rule of law and won’t grant you early release, get used to it.
“This is Israel, not Turkey,” Shmuli added, alluding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s passing of legislation enabling himself to continue ruling for decades.
Former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich repeated her previous calls for Netanyahu to resign when he is indicted “and not drag with him an entire innocent country.” Only that way, she added, would Israel get a leader “who isn’t waist-deep in criminal mud and who isn’t destroying the country to save his own skin.”
“Netanyahu is behaving like a crime boss with a state in his pocket,” said Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg. “Apart from putting a horse’s head in the attorney general’s bed, Netanyahu has gone as far as possible.”
She called on Israelis to take to the streets in protest of the decision.
Fellow Meretz MK Michal Rozin tweeted that the premier had been “lying through his teeth” and urged potential coalition members to “stop the public fraud and this madness.”
Speculation had been swirling that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength in the wake of the April 9 elections to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister, or seek to utilize existing immunity provisions for the same purpose.
He has been reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on potential support for an immunity move or for a so-called French Law that would shelter a sitting prime minister from prosecution.
Amid earlier reports of his legislative plans, Netanyahu on Monday evening had railed at what he called “misleading” and “distorted” media coverage according to which he was seeking to nullify the Supreme Court’s oversight of Knesset and government decisions, but he also indicated that he thought the bench should not be able to strike down legislation.
A Haaretz report earlier Monday had claimed the prime minister planned to promote a bill that would allow the Knesset to ignore the court’s administrative rulings, and would also permit parliament to resubmit laws that have been struck down by the court in the past. It would thus prevent the court from overruling both Knesset legislation and government decisions, and elevate the latter above those of the judiciary. According to the report, the planned bill is to be included in a legal annex to coalition agreements and government guidelines.
In a Facebook post on Monday evening, Netanyahu wrote that he has always supported “a strong and independent court — but that does not mean an all-powerful court.”
“Misleading leaks and distorted commentary published by the media include proposals that are untrue. All this is being done to sow fear and prevent any changes, in an attempt to block the restoration of the balance between the branches [of government].”
He said such balance was “required to pass laws that have been struck down in the past, laws the public expects us to pass: the expulsion of terrorists’ families, the death penalty for terrorists and a deportation law for [African migrants].”
In fact, only the deportation of illegal immigrants has been blocked by the courts in the past. The other two bills have not yet cleared the legislative process, having been bogged down by various disagreements and difficulties.
Current law already provides for any MK to obtain immunity by a majority vote in the Knesset House Committee and then in the Knesset plenum. Until 2005, MKs were automatically granted immunity from prosecution, and that immunity could be lifted by majority votes in the House Committee and plenum.
The prime minister is a suspect in three criminal probes in which investigators have recommended graft indictments, including bribery in one of the cases.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing.
The prime minister denies all the allegations and has sought to delay the hearing, which has been scheduled for sometime before July 9.
Netanyahu’s political rivals have warned that such a delay would buy him time to shore up his immunity from prosecution and stave off the indictment.