Zohar: I stopped ‘underhanded’ opposition bid by nixing vote to probe sub affair

Coalition whip says Likud acted ‘correctly and honestly’ in retroactively canceling Knesset decision to form parliamentary inquiry into corruption case linked to associates of PM

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during a meeting at the Knesset, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during a meeting at the Knesset, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Coalition whip Miki Zohar, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Thursday that he and his Likud party acted properly in revoking a plenum vote that approved establishing a commission of inquiry into a corruption case in which several of the premier’s associates have been embroiled, and it was the opposition that had acted unfairly.

“We acted correctly and honestly, and I am pleased that the opinion of the Knesset legal adviser also clarified this to all who doubted it,” Zohar wrote on Twitter, after the Knesset’s acting legal adviser Sagit Afik backed the move.

“We prevented an underhanded maneuver from the opposition,” Zohar said in reference to the effort by opposition parties to form a parliamentary inquiry committee into the so-called Case 3000.

The corruption probe nicknamed “the submarine affair” revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. The scandal has embroiled several close associates of Netanyahu, as well as high ranking military officials, but not the premier himself.

The high-stakes motion to form a commission of inquiry had not been expected to be approved after Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said its members wouldn’t back it, but in a surprise turn of events it was passed 25-23. However, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, also a Likud party ally of Netanyahu’s, immediately nullified the result, saying that Zohar had demanded a voice vote rather than the electronic vote that was held. The proposal was then rejected in a second vote, amid chaotic scenes and vocal protests from the opposition.

Opposition MKs express anger after Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin nullifies vote calling for inquiry into submarine affair, October 21, 2020 (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

Zohar on Thursday tweeted: “It’s time for the opposition to put its shoulder to the wheel and invest its efforts in the fight against the coronavirus instead of waging idle wars against us.”

Despite opposition protests, which included vows to challenge the move in the High Court, Knesset acting legal adviser Afik “determined that the voice vote can stand,” a Wednesday statement from the Knesset said.

Afik said she accepted the explanation that the body had mistakenly held an electronic vote instead of the requested voice vote, saying that video from the vote showed Zohar approaching Deputy Speaker Mansour Abbas before the initial voting began to request a voice vote, rather than the electronic vote that was held.

Responding to Afik’s legal opinion, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who was behind the proposal, called the decision “scandalous” and said she would file an appeal with the High Court on Thursday morning.

“The [original] vote was legal and conducted in accordance with the Knesset Rules of Procedure,” she said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm Thyssenkrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s political opponents have accused the premier of a possible conflict of interest in the Thyssenkrupp affair and have alleged he may have benefited financially from it. Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party has said the accusations are politically motivated.

The state prosecution told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the submarine case.

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would not reassess Netanyahu’s role in the affair, even after a former Defense Ministry director’s affidavit, apparently tying Netanyahu to the case, was leaked.

The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims to be victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, state prosecutors under Mandelblit’s authority, left-wing opposition and the media.

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