Israel: Netanyahu will Seek Immunity from Knesset

Published: 02 January 2020

Benjamin NetanyahuIsrael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: U.S. Department of State)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday he will seek immunity from corruption charges, effectively delaying his trials until after the elections scheduled for March, when he expects to get a majority coalition to protect him from prosecution.

The Associated Press said that Netanyahu’s request turns the upcoming election into a referendum on whether he should be granted immunity and remain in office, or step down and stand trial.

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu in November with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, based on police allegations that Israel’s longest-serving prime minister granted state favors worth hundreds of US$ millions to an Israeli media businessmen in return for gifts and favorable coverage.

Addressing the nation on Wednesday, Netanyahu repeated that he is “the victim of an unfair conspiracy,” lashing out at prosecutors, the media and his political enemies.

At the same time, he claimed credit for a series of economic and security achievements on his watch and said he would seek to invoke the law that would protect him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.

“In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel,” Netanyahu said in his TV address to the nation.

Under Israel law, as Reuters reported, a legislator seeking immunity can do so on numerous grounds that include an argument that the prosecution is not acting in good faith.

Had Netanyahu not filed the request by Wednesday’s deadline, according to the report, the indictment against him could have been submitted to a court as early as Sunday, setting proceedings in motion.

Netanyahu reportedly used the current political deadlock in the country to seek immunity.

Normally, as the AP reported, his request would need to be approved by the parliament’s house committee and then submitted to a full vote. However, the house committee does not exist because a government was never formed after the election in September 2019.

The Knesset is therefore unlikely to decide the issue before the country’s March 2 election.

According to reports, Netanyahu is buying more time, as the court proceedings cannot begin until the question of immunity is settled.