Knesset Legal Experts Justify Annulling Probe Into Netanyahu's Submarine Affair

Inquiry was then rejected in second vote, but only after most opposition lawmakers boycotted the proceeding

Noa Landau
Chaim Levinson
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The Knesset plenum after the vote was annulled, October 21, 2020.
The Knesset plenum after the vote was annulled, October 21, 2020. Credit: Shmulik Grossman / Knesset Spokesperson
Noa Landau
Chaim Levinson

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud annulled a Knesset vote on Wednesday that approved a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair. The affair centers around claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu interevened to buy more submarines from Germany, against the security establishment's position.

The Knesset held an electronic vote, and a majority of Knesset members approved opening a parliamentary commission of inquiry. Coalition whip Miki Zohar of Likud claimed that he had demanded a roll-call vote rather than an electronic one, and that his electronic vote did not register. 

Levin then annulled the results of the vote, saying that the first vote had either not been announced or was said "softly." In Knesset footage, the announcement of the start of the vote can be heard, and it also appears on the countdown clock in the back of the room.

A statement released later by Levin and Deputy Speaker Mansour Abbas said that Abbas also did not hear the announcement, and that after the two watched the footage, they reaffirmed the decision to cast a second vote.

Knesset opposition lawmakers calling "Shame! Shame!" after Knesset speaker cancels vote.

Later on Wednesday, the Knesset's legal adviser said Levin acted legally when he annulled the vote. "I believe that repealing a vote and holding another one instead in order to distort and disguise the result is something that undermines the basic principals of the democracy and could harm trust in the Knesset," Sagit Afik wrote, but added that "this is not the case before us."

According to Afik, Abbas confirmed Zohar's claim that he approached him before the vote and asked that it be held as a roll-call. She added that footage appeared to show several other lawmakers did not notice Abbas' announcement ahead of the vote due to their distance and the noise in the plenum.

Netanyahu halted the coronavirus cabinet meeting Wednesday so that Likud ministers could participate in the second vote in the Knesset plenum against opening the parliamentary commission of inquiry. The proposal was rejected during the second vote, as most opposition members boycotted the proceedings. 

The affair centers around an agreement with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp to buy submarines and patrol boats; the latter would protect Israel’s natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean. At issue in these deals, worth 1.5 billion euros and 430 million euros, respectively, are the dealings between top Israeli officials and ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel. 

Senior IDF officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with ThyssenKrupp. Last week, in an affidavit submitted to the High Court of Justice, former Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel said that Netanyahu applied unusual pressure to buy a seventh submarine from ThyssenKrupp. Harel described an argument between Netanyahu and himself on the matter: “I had the impression that there was an interest whose nature is not clear to me behind this procurement initiative.”

On Sunday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit informed the High Court of Justice that there was no reasonable basis for opening an investigation against Netanyahu in the affair. This prompted the Knesset opposition to open a parliamentary probe into the affair. 

'Stealing votes in the Israeli Knesset'

Opposition lawmakers were quick to condemn the cancellation of the vote. "When Netanyahu won't like the election results, will he also announce a roll-call vote?" wondered Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid claimed that in the history of the Knesset a speaker has never cancelled a vote in such a manner, "if votes can be cancelled like this, then just shut down the Knesset."

"We are a theatre so that Netanyahu can go around the world claiming that Israel is still a democracy," Lapid said, adding that such conduct sets a precedent for the cancellation of court rulings as well. "Netanyahu's new rules: Vote, and if I don't like the result, we'll cancel it," Lapid tweeted.  

The vote’s annulment will be examined by the Knesset legal counsel at the request of Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg. The Meretz party announced it will take the matter to the High Court. Its leader Nitzan Horowitz vowed to never allow "stealing votes in the Israeli Knesset."

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of mainly Arab parties, said "nothing summarizes the government's failure like stopping a cabinet discussion because of a vote on another Netanyahu corruption case." 

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