Knesset to Vote Next Week on Forming Panel to Discuss Netanyahu Immunity Bid

Speaker says full Knesset to convene next week, repeats opposition to discussing immunity before election

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yuli Edelstein speaking at the Israel Democracy Institute, September 12, 2019.
Yuli Edelstein speaking at the Israel Democracy Institute, September 12, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset will meet next Tuesday to vote on convening the Knesset House Committee to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in three corruption affairs even before the March 2 general election.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced the decision Sunday, saying it was made after 25 lawmakers asked that the committee be convened in an extraordinary session, during a recess.

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In his announcement, Edelstein repeated his opposition to discussing the immunity so soon before the election, saying that the debate would serve as election propaganda.

Lawmakers sit during a session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019.
Lawmakers sit during a session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. Credit: AFP

“As I said a week ago, the process of debating the prime minister’s immunity has been contaminated,” Edelstein said in a statement. “The parties represented will turn the proceedings in the Knesset House Committee into prohibited election propaganda and the legislature into a jungle. A bitter taste of that was felt in the debate in the Arrangements Committee held several days ago.”

Edelstein recalled, however, that he had promised not to delay the debate, adding: “Although I disagree with the position of the Knesset legal adviser, I believe that in order to maintain trust in the institution of the Knesset speaker, it is important to accept it,” he said.

Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s legal adviser, issued a legal opinion last week saying that Edelstein cannot veto the convening of the Knesset House Committee, which can discuss the immunity request.

According to his opinion, restrictions on Knesset committee’s activities during an election campaign were created to prevent parties from taking advantage of committee sessions for the purpose of election propaganda. However, he wrote, “regarding discussions whose subject is conducting intra-parliamentary proceedings required by the law, the Knesset speaker’s judgment is significantly diminished.”

Most lawmakers are expected to vote against granting immunity to Netanyahu, who has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In his announcement, Edelstein explained that would not convene the Knesset until next week because dozens of foreign leaders are visiting Israel this week for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, which will be held at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem on Thursday.

Edelstein has been under heavy pressure over the past few days by Netanyahu associates to delay the creation of a committee to rule on the immunity request. Sources in Likud said they believe the speaker would not act in opposition to the legal adviser’s opinion, however.

The Kahol Lavan party, led by Benny Gantz, said in a statement: “Netanyahu is applying every possible form of pressure in an attempt to prevent the discussion of the immunity request, but despite the delay tactics, the immunity discussions will begin next week, will be conducted in a to-the-point manner and fairly, and will be completed before the election.”

Party figures as well as Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman have recently said that if Edelstein tries to postpone the debate, they might move to oust the Knesset speaker. Last week, Edelstein accused his political rivals of “using expressions that come straight out of mafia movies.”

Last week Likud petitioned the High Court of Justice against Yinon, claiming that the Knesset legal adviser has a conflict of interest because his wife, Deputy Attorney General Amit Merari, was involved in formulating the indictments against Netanyahu. Likud wants the High Court to void Yinon’s opinion and instruct him to continue to examine the issue.

On Sunday Likud said in a statement to the court that Yinon’s opinion is in effect “a ruling on the matter of the prime minister. It is impossible to argue seriously that issuing such an opinion, in an election season, is a procedural decision.”

Sources in Kahol Lavan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected the discussions on Netanyahu's immunity to continue for around three weeks, beginning January 28 and ending about two weeks before the election. That timeline includes unscheduled breaks as a result of the prime minister's petitions to the High Court of Justice against the procedure or his need to take part in urgent security meetings.

Kahol Lavan has consulted with jurists over legal issues that could arise during the committee's deliberations, including with Avi Licht, a former deputy attorney general.

To guarantee that the deliberations can begin as soon as possible, lawmaker Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Arrangements Committee, sent a letter to Netanyahu's lawyers on January 13, informing them that the panel had decided to convene the Knesset House Committee and instructing them to be ready for the debate on Netanyahu's immunity request to begin as soon as the Knesset approved it.

In a letter to Netanyahu attorneys Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad, Nissenkorn noted that if the Knesset adopted the Arrangement Committee's recommendation to convene the Knesset House Committee, he planned to begin deliberations "as soon as possible."‎

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