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Legislation Protecting Netanyahu Brings Israeli Parliament to a New Low

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Netanyahu during a Likud caucus meeting in Jerusalem, November 27, 2017.
Netanyahu during a Likud caucus meeting in Jerusalem, November 27, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

If the stink wafting from the Knesset on Monday had been from a biological hazard rather than a public one, hundreds of thousands of the capital’s residents would have had to close their windows and shutters. In one of the most shameful moments ever in the legislature, the governing coalition undertook to assist senior suspect Benjamin Netanyahu by banning the approaching publication of the police recommendations in the extravagant-gifts case and the quid pro quo newspaper coverage case.

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In the past, votes have sullied the good name of this important institution. But we’ve never seen such a low point – a bill tailored specifically to the measurements of a prime minister embroiled in alleged criminality, with his knowledge and in coordination with him, and winning the support of most of the legislature.

And it’s not certain we’ve reached the nadir. As long as Likud MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan are lords of the manor, and as long as the coalition wants to remain in power, every “inconceivable” repugnancy is a legal option, every truth is a lie, every lie is the truth. And let them “explode,” as Amsalem, that shining knight of civil rights, put it.

The bill’s purpose is to silence, conceal and cover up. As long as the public can’t hear the police’s position on their investigation – where the evidence has emerged and what the alleged offenses are – Netanyahu will earn precious time, many months. He can keep on tweeting that there will be nothing because there is nothing.

Likud lawmakers David Bitan (far left) and David Amsalem (far right) at during a meeting of a Knesset committee, November 27, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

This situation will also serve his partners. If, perish the thought, the police found bribery evidence against Netanyahu and made public the evidence against him, his time would be running out. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett wouldn’t be able to stay in his government.

The inevitable outcome would be an early election that no one wants, as we saw Sunday at the end of the crisis over railway maintenance work on Shabbat. A ban against the police publishing their recommendations is therefore in the interest of all the partners. And so they hold their noses and vote in favor.

The man who stood in the breach between the law passing and failing to pass is Kulanu chief Kahlon. In the past he said his party wouldn’t lend a hand to a bill tailored to benefit the prime minister. Now he has reversed himself.

According to political sources, he was heavily pressured by the prime minister’s people, as far as a threat of an early election. Kahlon denies this categorically.

There was no such thing, he said Monday: I wasn’t threatened and didn’t fold. True, I compromised. But I insisted that in the investigation of senior officials, the attorney general must be able to request – and receive – the summary of the investigation and the police’s recommendations.

Kahlon and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit talked on Sunday and Monday. Mendelblit told Kahlon he could live with the new wording, which leaves him the power to ask for the police’s recommendations. Once Kahlon had that green light, he instructed his party’s MKs to vote in favor of the bill. “Moshe poked them a hole in the bill,” was more or less what people around him said.

And still, publicly and in terms of image, Kahlon was damaged. Once again he made a public pledge and once again he somersaulted. That was what happened with his involvement, which became his un-involvement, with the country’s natural gas plan.

Sources close to the finance minister said they believed he made a fatal mistake. In assuming that Netanyahu would push for an election in the spring, Kahlon’s political interest was to enter a campaign as Netanyahu’s adversary, not accomplice. From strength and not from weakness. Independent, not indolent.

Never mind, someone close to the finance minister said. Moshe will find something to quarrel with Bibi over.

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