Lieberman Threatens to Oust Knesset Speaker Over Netanyahu Immunity

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Avigdor Lieberman in a cultural event in Tel Aviv, December 2019.
Avigdor Lieberman in a cultural event in Tel Aviv, December 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday that if Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein opposes the formation of a Knesset House Committee, which has the power to decide whether to grant immunity to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition will vote to oust him. “The last thing I want is a confrontation with the Knesset speaker, but if there’s no choice I will do everything possible to form a Knesset House Committee,” he said. Lieberman’s threat gives the opposition a majority for ousting Edelstein.

On Sunday Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon sent an opinion to the effect that in spite of the Knesset recess, there is nothing to prevent the establishment of a committee to discuss granting Netanyahu immunity from prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The opinion in effect transfers the decision to Edelstein, who can adopt or reject it.

“We prevented every attempt to replace the Knesset Speaker during the interim period, out of statesmanship and parliamentary responsibility,” said Lieberman during the annual convention of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. He added that the speaker is expected to behave in a statesmanlike manner, “and in light of our long acquaintance and friendship I’m certain that that’s what he’ll do in the end.”

Lieberman said that his party supports the formation of all the Knesset committees, not only the House Committee. “The country has been conducted without parliamentary supervision for over a year,” he said. “Just now there was a disaster in Tel Aviv and the Knesset Interior Committee isn’t functioning. Normally we would have been required to convene the Interior Committee.”

Meanwhile, the Knesset spokesperson denied media reports to the effect that Yinon would disqualify himself from dealing with Netanyahu’s immunity request due to an alleged conflict of interest. In a statement on Monday, the spokesperson called this claim “a cynical and artificial issue designed to threaten the Knesset legal adviser” after Yinon approved the formation of a Knesset committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity request.

According to the media, the reason for disqualifying Yinon was a possible conflict of interest due to the involvement of his partner, Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, in filing indictments against Netanyahu. The Knesset spokesperson wrote that the claim of a conflict of interest arose only due to Yinon’s conclusion, “which one of the sides involved doesn’t like,” and that “the Knesset legal adviser signed a conflict of interest agreement and has observed it meticulously throughout the years during which he and his partner have been working in their jobs simultaneously.”

The declaration also explained that Yinon is not involved in the immunity requests themselves now, nor will he be involved later. “If and when there is a discussion of the immunity requests in the Knesset and of the significant claims related to whether the attorney general can decide to file the indictments, the Knesset legal adviser will not deal with that.”

Yinon’s opinion transfers the decision about the immunity request to the political leadership. Legal sources estimate that based on Yinon’s opinion, the Supreme Court will have difficulty requiring Edelstein to order a discussion about immunity.

Israel's attorney general published the indictment against Netanyahu in November. The prime minister is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the Bezeq-Walla case, in which he is charged with trading regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage. He is charged with fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, in which he allegedly traded favors for positive media coverage, and accepted lavish gifts in exchange for favors. The indictment states that “Netanyahu gave preferential treatment and placed himself in a conflict of interest between his public and private interests.”

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