Netanyahu to push through new law protecting his immunity from prosecution, Israeli media reports

The new bill will cancel High Court oversight allowing the right-wing leader to protect his immunity as he faces indictment in three graft cases 

Bel Trew
Jerusalem
Monday 13 May 2019 15:55 BST
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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a paper at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on 12 May
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a paper at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on 12 May (Reuters)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to push through a new law that would allow parliament to protect his immunity from prosecution, as he faces possible indictment in three corruption cases, according to leaks to the Israeli media.

The new far-reaching bill would allow the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and government ministers to essentially ignore any High Court of Justice ruling, Haaretz revealed, including the potential revocation of Mr Netanyahu’s immunity.

According to the left-leaning daily, the move is written into a “legal appendix” of the coalition agreement and government guidelines Mr Netanyahu is currently drawing up as he builds a new coalition government after winning the April general election.

If passed, the clause would give additional protection to the powerful right-wing leader, who secured a record fifth term in office and whose avid supporters dominate the legislative body.

Mr Netanyahu has already tried to restore the 2005 wording of an immunity law where the Knesset House Committee could reject the attorney-general’s request to rescind immunity of a particular parliamentarian.

But the law on its own would not safeguard the prime minister as the High Court of Justice is ultimately given the final word.

According to Haaretz, the new proposed “override clause” would mean this is no longer the case, as the Knesset would be permitted to reject even the High Court’s administrative decisions, effectively turning all their rulings into legal suggestions which can be ignored.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected the media leaks calling them “sensational” and “misleading” in a statement on Twitter, but failed to give any further details.

Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, author and expert on Mr Netanyahu, sounded the alarm.

“The implication of this law, if it passes, will be that the High Court will lose its powers of judicial review over government actions, in any field, the military occupation, state and religion, etc. All this to save Netanyahu from being put on trial,” he wrote on Twitter.

“In 13 years in power, Netanyahu has never tried something like this. He never truly challenged the Supreme Court. But now it’s his neck on the line, he’s just won a fifth election and he just might have a majority in the new Knesset to pass such a law, upending 70 years’ precedent,” he added.

Israel’s attorney general is expected to indict Mr Netanyahu in three corruption cases dubbed cases 1000, 2000, and 4000, after he faces a pre-trial hearing in the next few months.

In case 4000, police have alleged that Mr Netanyahu granted regulatory favours to Israel’s leading telecommunications company, Bezeq, in return for more positive coverage on Walla!, a news website belonging to the firm’s owner.

Case 2000 focuses on suspicions Mr Netanyahu negotiated a deal with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper for better coverage in return for promises to limit the circulation of a rival. In the third investigation, case 1000, police argue that he received expensive gifts from wealthy friends.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrong doing.

There have been several leaked reports at his alleged attempts to shield himself from standing trial.

His Likud party did not directly address the details of Haaretz’s report but issued a statement saying: “As part of coalition negotiations, various proposals have been raised, by Likud coalition partners, including the restoration of the balance between the legislative and the judicial branches.”

It added: “The sensational media reports include proposals that were not discussed and biased and misleading analyses ... The principle that will continue to guide the Likud is to maintain independent and strong courts, but that doesn’t mean the court is omnipotent.”

The new law, should it be properly drafted would need to be passed by the Knesset. Mr Pfeffer said that it would likely pass, as the right-wing and religious parties loyal to the the premier hold 65 of the new Knesset’s 120 seats.

The alleged bill would also allow the Knesset to relegislate laws that the High Court strikes down.

Mr Netanyahu’s chief elections rival and his ex-army chief Benny Gantz said the move was “contempt for the rule of law” and “crossing a red line” which they would not turn a blind eye to.

Yair Lapid, an opposition leader and Gantz’s elections partner, said he will be holding a press conference on Monday to discuss “Netanyahu’s attempts to arrange a get-out-of-jail-free card for himself and to turn the State of Israel into Turkey.”

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