A veteran former lawmaker for the ruling Likud party on Sunday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent attempts to secure immunity from prosecution in three graft cases, calling them “corrupt” and joining two sitting Likud lawmakers who have criticized the premier over the matter.
“I am witnessing this with great sadness,” Benny Begin told Israel Radio. “The prime minister hiding behind the shield of immunity as a Knesset member, with or without legislative changes, is a corrupt act.”
“With this act, the prime minister intends to misuse his leadership power for personal gain, and he is dragging others down with him,” Begin, the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, added. “The Knesset members who support the prime minister’s attempt to escape justice will be abusing their office by lending a hand to a clear act of corruption.”
Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin responded Sunday by saying he was “very sorry for this remark because if I listen to his statements, the whole issue of immunity for Knesset members is hollow and should be abolished, and every MK in any situation has to immediately be charged in every investigation.”
The 76-year-old Begin, who left the Knesset on April 30 after serving as a Likud lawmaker for 18 of the last 30 years, in March launched a scathing attack on the premier for “attempting to assassinate the public’s trust in law enforcement institutions” with his attacks on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has announced charges against Netanyahu pending a hearing.
In an interview with Army Radio at the time, Begin said that his last four years in office had been tough as his party colleagues “made great efforts to make it hard for me to agree and identify with many bills, offensive proposals in which I frequently found myself to be an opposition within my party.”
Netanyahu repeatedly insisted in the run-up to the elections that he would not push for legislation granting him immunity. However, several recent reports have suggested he has decided to move forward with plans to pass a new immunity law to avoid prosecution in the criminal cases against him.
The prime minister is facing charges for fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Netanyahu, who by law is entitled to a pre-trial hearing with the attorney general before an indictment is formally filed, has denied any wrongdoing and claims the corruption accusations are aimed at forcing him from office.
Last week, MK Gideon Sa’ar, an influential Likud lawmaker who has clashed with Netanyahu in the past, became the first lawmaker in the ruling party to come out against the prime minister’s reported plans.
“This legislation offers zero benefit and causes maximum damage,” Sa’ar said in an interview with Channel 12. A number of Likud lawmakers blasted Sa’ar over the remarks, while party sources told Hebrew-language media that he was trying to topple Netanyahu.
Sa’ar on Sunday tweeted a response to a flood on negative post against him disseminated via social media since his criticism of the proposal.
“One of many examples of the rampant incitement on the internet since the weekend. Incitement, intimidation and threats will not work,” he vowed, sharing a screenshot of one Facebook post calling him a “traitor” alongside a photoshopped image of him wearing a kaffiyeh.
Freshman Likud MK Michal Shir, a former aide to Sa’ar, came to his defense and said she too opposes “personal legislation” that could protect Netanyahu from being indicted.
A spokesman for the premier said Friday that an immunity law would not be a part of Likud’s coalition agreements with other parties to join the next government.
“I confirm on behalf of the prime minister that the issue of immunity will not be a part of the coalition agreements,” the spokesman said.
However, analysts said Netanyahu was likely to push ahead with some kind of legislation, noting that he had the support of his potential coalition partners even if it is not part of the signed deals.
Channel 12 said that even if new immunity legislation is not in the formal coalition agreements, Netanyahu would either seek such legislation anyhow, or utilize existing legislation to gain immunity and then legislate to prevent the Supreme Court intervening.
“He’s still pushing ahead with this with all his strength,” the TV report said.
Last week, the Haaretz daily reported Netanyahu was planning to promote a bill allowing lawmakers to overrule administrative decisions by the High Court of Justice, including any ruling it could make against granting the premier immunity through legislation or a Knesset decision.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.