Netanyahu Ally Threatens to Break Up Governing Coalition Over PM Immunity Bill

Coalition whip David Bitan threatens a coalition partner over the bill that would shield the prime minister from corruption investigations

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benjamin Netanyahu and David Bitan during a caucus meeting, October 23, 2017.
Benjamin Netanyahu and David Bitan during a caucus meeting, October 23, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Likud will break up the governing coalition if the center-right Kulanu party does not support a bill that would protect a sitting prime minister from being investigated on corruption allegations, Coalition Chairman David Bitan said Monday.

“If we have to break up the coalition, that’s what will happen,” Bitan said. “I’m telling you, Likud will not give up on this bill.”

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he would let Kulanu Knesset members vote as they wished on the immunity bill and on the so-called nation-state bill, which may subordinate Israel’s democratic identity to its Jewish identity.

“We will uphold our commitments that are written in the coalition agreements,” Kahlon told Kulanu lawmakers. “Regarding what is not in the agreements, each member of the caucus will have the freedom to vote his or her conscience.”

Several Kulanu lawmakers have voiced displeasure with the immunity bill, which is due to come up for approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation soon.

Coalition Chairman David Bitan at a conference in Tel Aviv supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, August 2017. Credit: Emil Salman

One such lawmaker, Rachel Azaria, wrote on Twitter that the bill “harms the rule of law and puts the prime minister above the law. The bill sends a message to the public of legitimizing corruption, and that offenses of this type won’t be taken seriously.”

On Sunday, Bitan harshly criticized Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for not letting the bill come before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Shaked had said the ministers needed time to study the latest version of the bill, which was sponsored by MK David Amsalem (Likud).

The newest version of the bill states that a prime minister cannot serve more than two full consecutive terms, but this article is not expected to apply to Netanyahu’s current stretch in power.

The bill to prohibit an investigation into a sitting prime minister makes exceptions for sex offenses, violent offenses, security offenses and drug offenses.

The current version of the bill is not expected to exempt Netanyahu from the current corruption investigations plaguing him; one article states that the law would not apply to investigations that began before the law went into effect.

Two key officials have opposed the immunity bill.

On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit presented an opinion to the ministers stating that “blocking an investigation [into a sitting prime minister] disregards a Basic Law, does not balance between interests, and constitutes serious harm to the rule of law.”

On Monday, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan published an article stating that banning the investigation of a sitting prime minister would erode the government’s standing.

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