Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to ask the Knesset again for immunity from prosecution in his corruption cases, based on his lawyers’ argument that the criminal investigation against him was flawed and should be reconsidered.
In the past month, the prime minister has told associates that he is weighing the benefits of such a move against the possible damage it could do to his image in public opinion.
In response to this article, however, associates of Netanyahu said the report was entirely baseless.
The preparations are proceeding against the backdrop of deliberations being held at the Knesset over the possible appointment of a new Knesset legal adviser. Whoever is appointed would play a critical role if Netanyahu indeed applied again for immunity.
The prime minister is standing trial at the Jerusalem District Court for charges of corruption involving allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies the charges, and on Sunday, his lawyers filed a request to have the charges dismissed on various grounds.
Netanyahu submitted an immunity request to the Knesset about a year ago. His bid to postpone the debate on procedural grounds failed. But ultimately, while he was in Washington in January for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, Netanyahu withdrew the request.
On November 11, Netanyahu filed a request to have the indictment amended, specifically asking that the charges differentiate between the alleged conduct attributed to him and to his wife, Sara, in what might hint at a plan on his part to argue that changed circumstances in the case require would justify a reconsideration of the immunity issue, if an amended indictment is indeed approved.
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Netanyahu’s lawyers filed a 174-page brief to the court on Sunday seeking to have all the charges against him dropped. In addition to arguing there were flaws in the process against Netanyahu, the lawyers, Amit Hadad and Boaz Ben Zur, devoted a chapter of the brief to the immunity issue.
Although the issue does not appear to be within the Jerusalem District Court’s jurisdiction, it signalled an effort to get the ball rolling on an immunity request to the Knesset that could allow him to avert a trial.
The prime minister claims that the state skipped required legal steps in charging a member of the Knesset such as himself, thereby infringing on his rights as a legislator. Netanyahu argues in part that the law required that the indictment be presented to the speaker of the Knesset, and also claims that the request was not considered by the proper Knesset committee.
The prime minister is also challenging the significance of his withdrawal of his prior immunity request, claiming that it did not constitute a waiver of his request for immunity. The process, he claimed, had never actually begun and that the appropriate committee, the Knesset House Committee, did not exist at the time.
In addition, one of the headings of the brief explicitly asks the udges to cancel the indictment on grounds that Netanyahu must be allowed further consideration of beingng granted immunity by the Knesset.
The person most critical to the success of any immunity effort is the Knesset’s legal adviser. Nobody has yet been named to replace the last adviser, and the position is currently staffed by an acting legal adviser, Sagit Afik, who is also the legal adviser to the Knesset House Committee.
A nominating committee chaired by retired Supreme Court President Asher Grunis is due to submit the names of four candidates for Knesset legal adviser. Afik is the leading candidate for the permanent appointment and has the support of Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni. Her handling of the job has so far been to the satisfaction of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud, as well.
The issue of a Knesset member’s immunity from prosecution is enshrined in the Basic Law: The Knesset and is described in detail in other legislation. In principle, immunity is designed to assist lawmakers in carrying out their job even if, under certain circumstances, they have violated the law.
Last year, Netanyahu called the immunity a cornerstone of democracy, but in his current legal situation and in light of the seriousness of the charges against him, they would arguably not entirely meet the criteria for immunity from prosecution.
The law provides four grounds for suspending an indictment against a Knesset member: an offense committed in the fulfillment of their duties as a legislator; an indictment that is not filed in good faith or that is discriminatory; an offense committed at the Knesset and over which internal proceedings have been pursued against the legislator; and cases in which the criminal proceedings would harm the Knesset or its committees.
In the initial request that Netanyahu filed on January 1, he claimed that there was discrimination in the indictment in that other individuals were not indicted, that the indictment was not filed in good faith and that it would hurt the functioning of the Knesset and the right of his voters to be represented. e also argued that all of his actions were in compliance with the law and that some were conducted in his role as prime minister and lawmaker.
Netanyahu is charged in three separate cases. One involves allegations that he provided regulatory concessions to the Bezeq telecommunications company in return for favorable news coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla website.
A second charge involves allegations that he received lavish gifts from wealthy business figures, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in return for acts benefitting Milchan. In the third case, it is alleged that Netanyahu offered Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, government policy favorable to the newspaper in return for favorable coverage by the newspaper.