Knesset Committee to Discuss Netanyahu's Immunity Can Convene, Legal Adviser Says

Eyal Yinon says that even though the Knesset itself is not in session, it can discuss Netanyahu's request for immunity in three criminal cases as soon as possible

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 5, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 5, 2020.Credit: Amit Shabi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

There is nothing preventing the Knesset House Committee from being convened to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request for immunity in three criminal cases, Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon said in a legal opinion issued Sunday, despite the fact that the Knesset is not in session.

Such a committee would have the power to reject Netanyahu’s request for immunity in the cases, in which he has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. If the committee rejected Netanyahu's request, his trial would begin immediately. It also has the ability to approve his request, but the type of immunity it would grant would only be valid until Election Day on March 2. Netanyahu would then have to resubmit his request for immunity to the new Knesset.

Yinon's opinion leaves the decision to the legislature rather than the judicial system, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein can now decide whether or not to accept it. Legal sources told Haaretz that based off of Yinon's legal opinion alone, the High Court of Justice would find it difficult to compel Edelstein to establish such a committee.

Edelstein is inclined not to permit the Knesset Arrangements Committee to convene the House Committee, but he is seeking another opinion from Yinon to examine whether he has the authority to veto the process.

Edelstein requested an opinion from Yinon last month, after which Yinon stated there was no reason the House Committee could not meet before a new government comes in, although there was no requirement to do so.

Edelstein followed up with the question of whether the House Committee can convene even if the Knesset is not in session, which Yinon answered with the opinion issued Sunday. "There is nothing determining that the Knesset House Committee and the Knesset plenum are prevented from discussing and deciding on the immunity request at this time," the opinion read.

Kahol Lavan, the major rival party for Netanyahu's Likud, urged Edelstein to convene the committee. “Edelstein must not disparage the holy of holies of Israeli democracy," a party statement read. "We call on him to convene the committee to discuss the immunity Netanyahu has requested. The Knesset must not become a city of refuge for a person indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Edelstein – you were elected as chairman of the Knesset, not chairman of Likud campaign headquarters. You must act accordingly.”

Communications Minister and Likud MK David Amsalem did not welcome the decision. “For some reason, just to hurt Netanyahu, they’re ready to break all the customs of the Knesset and become the committee for the authority to humiliate" he tweeted. "It’s sad that the end justifies the means, to bring down Netanyahu, the left is willing to crush all the rules and burn down the clubhouse.”

Labor-Gesher MK Revital Swid tweeted that a committee to discuss the issue be established immediately “after it became clear that the legal stance is that the request for immunity should be discussed ‘as soon as possible.’" She added that she expects Edelstein "to behave professionally and not to try to sabotage establishing the committee."

Netanyahu filed for substantive immunity, which does not expire, in Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is charged with trading regulatory favors in exchange for favorable media coverage. He also requested substantive immunity in one aspect of Case 1000, the lavish gifts affair, in which he is accused of conflicts of interests. Substantive immunity grants a Knesset member with permanent immunity with regard to actions taken as part of their role as a lawmaker.

But if the Knesset grants Netanyahu’s request, it can actually only give him procedural immunity, which would expire three months after the Knesset dissolves itself. In Case 4000, which alleges that Netanyahu made decisions to benefit the controlling shareholder in Israel’s largest telecom company, and the rest of the offenses for which he was indicted in Case 1000, he has requested procedural immunity, which would last until the end of his term.

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