Israeli Lawmakers Approve Immunity Request by Former Cabinet Minister Katz

Former labor minister allegedly promoted legislation that would have benefited him personally while concealing apparent conflicts of interest

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Haim Katz during a Knesset House Committee hearing for his immunity, February 4, 2020
Haim Katz during a Knesset House Committee hearing for his immunity, February 4, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset voted on Monday to grant the request for legislative immunity of former Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, after the Knesset House Committee approved the request last month.

93 Knesset members voted to accept Katz's requeset, 42 objected and one abstained.

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wants to charge Katz, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly promoting legislation that would have benefited him personally while concealing his conflicts of interest from the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee and the Knesset Ethics Committee.

The Knesset's approval of Katz’s request, however, will be in force only until next month’s election. After that, assuming Katz is reelected and Mendelblit still wants to indict him, he would have to request immunity from the new Knesset.

The law in question would grant the bondholders of insolvent companies priority over the controlling shareholders in getting paid. Since Katz, his financial advisor Moti Ben Ari and one of Ben Ari’s other clients, a company called Equitel, all held bonds in troubled companies, all could have profited substantially from this law.

Nevertheless, Katz brought Ben Ari to the Knesset Labor Committee to testify as an independent expert, without disclosing their relationship.

The Knesset House Committee granted Katz immunity on three of the four grounds allowable by law – that the alleged crime was committed in the course of carrying out his legislative duties; that the Ethics Committee had already ruled on the issue and that the offense took place in the Knesset and failing to prosecute wouldn’t harm the public interest.

Mendelblit bitterly opposed this decision, charging that Katz’s behavior “wasn’t far from bribery.”

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