Yamina leader Shaked says party will weigh backing immunity for Netanyahu

Yamina leader Shaked says party will weigh backing immunity for Netanyahu

After her colleague Bennett reversed previous stance and said ‘something extreme has to happen for us to oppose’ move, Shaked says his emphasis on stability is ‘correct’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked on Sunday morning said her party would consider supporting granting parliamentary immunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reversing a position previously stated by the right-wing alliance.

Her statement followed that of party member Naftali Bennett, who said in an interview aired Saturday that “something extreme has to happen for us to oppose immunity for Netanyahu.”

To avoid prosecution in three corruption cases, Netanyahu would need to be granted immunity by a Knesset panel and by the full parliament in a majority vote, and might then need to enact legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the Knesset decision.

“I wish for Netanyahu that the cases against him are closed,” Shaked said in an interview with Army Radio. While she said she opposes new legislation making it easier to grant immunity to the prime minister, she added that if Netanyahu asks the Knesset’s House Committee for immunity according to the existing law, “we will consider everything and decide according to the benefit of the State of Israel.”

Bennett, the former education minister and ex-head of the New Right party (now merged into Yamina), who expressed opposition for immunity for Netanyahu on several occasions earlier this year, explained his about-face Saturday in an interview with Channel 12 by saying circumstances had changed, and with Israel facing its second election in a year, what the country needed above all was “stability.”

New Right party member Naftali Bennett arrives to a meeting with Union of Right-Wing Parties head Rafi Peretz, after announcing their electoral alliance, at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, on July 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In her interview, Shaked, who took over from Bennett as New Right leader, said Bennett was “correct” to emphasize that aspect, saying that “the stability consideration is very significant.”

“The law is very clear on indictments against prime ministers,” she said. “It enables them to serve until a final verdict. The reason for that is so that the decision of one person, the attorney general, doesn’t cause a regime change. In a request for immunity by the prime minister, leadership stability should also be considered.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier this year announced Netanyahu would be charged, pending a hearing, with fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

As Netanyahu’s legal situation has become more precarious, his allies have increasingly talked up legislation that would protect him from prosecution while he remains prime minister.

One initiative, dubbed the “French law,” would state that a sitting prime minister cannot be investigated for offenses other than sex crimes, violence, drug abuse and security-related offenses, or if an investigation could damage national security or the economy.

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

Last month, a newspaper report claimed that Shaked, the former justice minister, offered to use her purported influence with Mandelblit to ensure the closure of the corruption investigations against Netanyahu.

During this lobbying effort, Shaked is alleged to have sent messengers to various figures in Netanyahu’s orbit to offer what the Haaretz daily described as “full support for granting Netanyahu immunity and preventing his indictment.”

Shaked vehemently denied the report, 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.”

Following the report, Channel 13 news quoted associates of Mandelblit saying he never discussed Netanyahu’s criminal cases with Shaked and that he would oppose efforts to grant the premier immunity.

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