Netanyahu Says Immunity From Prosecution 'A Cornerstone of Democracy'

Indicted in three corruption cases, prime minister says he will decide on whether to request immunity within two days; tells High Court is is 'unthinkable' for attorney general to decide who can be PM

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Benjamin Netanyahu at a Hanukkah event in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu at a Hanukkah event in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Immunity from prosecution is a cornerstone of democracy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted in three corruption cases, said Sunday. Netanyahu added that he would make a decision on whether he would ask the Knesset for immunity within two days. 

"Immunity isn't against democracy; immunity is a cornerstone of democracy," the prime minister told the audience at a Hanukkah event.

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Also Sunday, Netanyahu told the High Court of Justice that it was "unthinkable" for the attorney general to decide "who can run the country cand who can't." In a letter sent ahead of a possible decision on the matter, Netanyahu wrote that in a democracy, "those who decide who leads the people are the people, and no one else."

Netanyahu said on Saturday that should he request immunity, he would "not be avoiding trial." 

In November, Israel faced a first-of-its-kind situation in the country's history when an indictment was filed against Netanyahu. He has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a favorable news coverage for telecommunications benefits case (Case 4000), as well as fraud and breach of trust in cases pertaining to lavish gifts for political favors and favorable coverage in return for legislation (Cases 1000 and 2000, respectively). The indictment alleges that Netanyahu “placed himself in a conflict of interests between his public roles and his private affairs.”

A special Knesset committee, which according to Israeli law would have to discuss a request for immunity, has not been appointed since Israel held the April election. A new committee is not expected to be assembled until after the next election on March 2, so if Netanyahu does file a request to be granted immunity a discussion about it will likely be postponed by several months, at the very least.

If a new government is not formed after the March election, the discussion on Netanyahu's immunity could potentially be further postponed. It is not possible to file an official indictment of Netanyahu to the court before a committee discusses his request. 

After this committee is established, and should it decide to grant Netanyahu immunity, the request will then pass on to a vote in the Knesset plenum. The Knesset can then decide to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in all three of the cases, or only for some of them. Even if the Knesset committee and the plenum both approve the prime minister's request, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, or any other civilian entity, could appeal this decision to the High Court of Justice.

In the same vein, Netanyahu himself could also petition the High Court if the Knesset rejects his request for immunity. The High Court has intervened in the past in decisions concerning immunity, on the grounds that the Knesset exceeded its authority, made an unreasonable decision or failed to provide enough evidence to back the decision to grant immunity.

A Channel 12 News poll Sunday night found that of the over 500 respondents from across Israeli society, 51 percent said they oppose granting the premier immunity, with 33 percent supporting it. Another 16 percent said that they do not know. Among right wing voters, 35 percent oppose granting immunity, and 47 percent support the notion. 

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