Report claims Shaked promised Netanyahu immunity if he made her justice minister

Report claims Shaked promised Netanyahu immunity if he made her justice minister

Yamina leader alleged to have claimed she could force attorney general to close graft cases as she lobbied for membership in Likud; Shaked denies ‘low, ugly slander’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked poses for a selfie during a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked poses for a selfie during a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A Monday newspaper report claimed that former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who now leads the right-wing Yamina party, offered to use her purported influence with Israel’s attorney general to ensure the closure of three corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If the accusation is substantiated, Shaked’s alleged actions could conceivably constitute crimes in themselves, including breach of trust and obstruction. She vehemently denied the report on Monday, calling it “low and ugly.”

The report was carried in the Haaretz daily, which said it had seen written exchanges and heard recordings of “political figures” making the offers, purportedly on Shaked’s behalf.

Throughout most of June and July, as the political system geared up for new elections, Shaked, a popular figure on the political right, but a failed candidate in the April race, made intensive efforts to join the Likud party’s senior ranks.

She reportedly used interlocutors to lobby influential figures in the ruling party, including Netanyahu and his wife Sara, who is thought by Likud officials to wield significant influence over the prime minister’s political decisions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, left, during a vote on the 2017-2018 state budget in the Knesset plenum, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several senior party figures were swayed to support her efforts after internal polls reportedly showed that her placement high on the ruling party’s Knesset slate could deliver as much as a five-seat boost at the ballot box.

But Shaked’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, in part because of longstanding enmity between her and the Netanyahu family, who have long suspected her of involvement in leaks of damaging information linked to Netanyahu. Some high-ranking Likud politicians also sought to torpedo her efforts, seeing little benefit to themselves in adding a future competitor to the party’s top tier.

It was during this lobbying effort that Shaked is alleged to have sent messengers to various figures in Netanyahu’s orbit to offer what the paper described as “full support for granting Netanyahu immunity and preventing his indictment.”

Netanyahu is facing charges in three separate cases, pending a hearing with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

According to the paper, one such emissary told an unnamed Likud interlocutor that Shaked was extremely close to Mandelblit.

“She controls him. She knows how to influence him. She’s close to him. If she isn’t in control of the Justice Ministry, it’s clear that Bibi [Netanyahu] is going to prison,” the messenger reportedly said.

Shaked was also a better spokesperson for any bid to grant Netanyahu parliamentary immunity, the emissary was quoted as saying. “Only she can bring Bibi his immunity. She knows how to go to the media and explain why immunity is justified. She’s trusted, she isn’t [populist Likud culture minister] Miri Regev.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Another purported representative offered a different Netanyahu confidant Shaked’s “total loyalty. She’ll support the prime minister in everything.”

Shaked vehemently denied the report on Monday, calling it “a low and ugly attempt to slander me. If the statements quoted [in the report] were in fact said by someone, that’s very serious. But they have nothing to do with me and were not said with my knowledge. I’ve never spoken to the attorney general about criminal cases, and even more so when it comes to the Netanyahu cases.”

Mandelblit announced earlier this year his intention to indict Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in the three cases, and for bribery in one of them, pending a hearing.

The hearing has been set for October 2-3, delayed from its original date of July 10, at the request of the prime minister’s defense team.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Reports surfaced repeatedly in the weeks before and after the April election claiming Netanyahu was demanding that Likud lawmakers and MKs from potential coalition partners agree to support granting him parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the graft cases as a precondition for joining his planned coalition.

Netanyahu has denied making such a demand of any party or lawmaker.

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