The Israeli Knesset is weighing legislation that would grant government officials immunity from criminal prosecution, and just so happen to spare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from three looming corruption indictments.
If the proposed amendment to the Immunity Law passes, elected officials cannot be charged with a criminal offense unless the 120-member Knesset and the Knesset House Committee agree to waive immunity. Should Netanyahu’s Likud Party secure a coalition and outnumber its rivals, the measure could effectively place them above the law for as long as they serve in government.
The legislation reverses existing procedure wherein Knesset members can only be granted immunity from prosecution if both Knesset and House Committee agree to spare them. It applies to any offense committed during or before being voted into the Knesset, and has outraged opponents of the PM.
“Citizens aren’t allowed to steal, but MKs are,” MK Pnina Tamano-Shata from the opposition Blue and White bloc marveled at the opening of a Knesset House Committee meeting. The Blue and White plans to hold a protest on Saturday denouncing the move as a “defense shield for democracy.”
Even in Netanyahu’s own party, not everyone is convinced making the Knesset above the law is a good idea. “This legislation offers zero benefit and maximum damage,” senior Likud party member Gideon Sa’ar told Israeli Channel 12, while former Likud MK Benny Begin remarked “Such a phenomenon is called corruption.”
Likud MK Miki Zohar, who submitted the bill last month and was “delighted” to see it appear on the Knesset agenda on Monday, denied he was acting as an “emissary” of Netanyahu, who is currently facing a raft of serious charges including breach of trust, corruption, and bribery in relation to three cases.
Zohar, who is tapped to head the House Committee in the new government, insists Netanyahu had blocked the immunity bill when he introduced it in the last Knesset. While the PM declared during last month’s election that he would not try to grant himself immunity from prosecution, he did not promise his supporters wouldn’t pursue such measures on his behalf.
Zohar and Netanyahu’s office have both denied reports the immunity measure is being included in the coalition agreements to form the next government. A report from Haaretz earlier this month claimed an “override clause” allowing the Knesset to reject any High Court decision was being slipped into a “legal appendix” in the agreements describing Israel’s longest-serving PM’s plan to “reform” the judicial system.
The PM’s practice of rewarding loyalty with ministry positions has generated further controversy, with another bill in the works to expand his cabinet from 21 ministers to 28, a move opponents have denounced as “political bribery” as the PM is running out of time to put a governing coalition together. While Netanyahu ultimately prevailed in his re-election despite the charges hanging over his head, he has had to court some extremist elements, and is now faced with the challenge of delivering to his newfound allies.