As Indictment Nears, Where Do Israeli Parties Stand on Bill Granting Netanyahu Immunity?

If he leads the next government, the PM would need the backing of all coalition partners to spare him from standing trial in corruption cases

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 10.
Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters

Even if he is re-elected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might not be able to pass proposed legislation to shield him from standing trial, given the positions of some of his likely coalition partners.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 18Haaretz

Though Netanyahu hasn’t yet publicly announced any such intention, some of his likely partners are already considering their views on the issue of barring criminal cases against a sitting prime minister.

>> Netanyahu's hope for immunity: An uphill battle likely to fail

Most of the center-left parties adamantly oppose such legislation, including Kahol Lavan, Labor, Meretz, Gesher and the two Arab tickets, Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad. Thus Netanyahu would have trouble passing it without the support of all his coalition partners.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the National Union party, has already announced that he supports passing legislation to spare Netanyahu from standing trial while in office. Two other parties, Hayamin Hehadash and United Torah Judaism, have said they would consider supporting such a bill.

But the Kulanu party said it would oppose any such legislation.

“Kulanu has opposed and will oppose any ad hominem legislation, and it has proven this in the Knesset,” the party said in a statement. It cited two ad hominem bills in particular that it opposed in the last Knesset, including one on this very subject – the so-called "French Law", which would granting sitting prime ministers immunity from prosecution for most offenses until after they left office.

Netanyahu’s Likud party also denied that it would support such a bill, insisting in a statement that it would be unnecessary in any case, because “once he is allowed to confront the state witnesses and bring dozens of witnesses that haven’t been questioned and hundreds of documents that haven’t been examined, the prime minister will rebut all the allegations at the [pre-indictment] hearing. The entire house of cards against him will collapse completely.”

In the last Knesset, however, several Likud MKs, led by David Amsalem and David Bitan, spearheaded the ultimately unsuccessful effort to pass the "French Law".

Shas declined to respond to Haaretz’s request for its views, as did UTJ. But a UTJ Knesset member, Moshe Gafni, recently said the party wouldn’t rule out supporting such legislation. Asked by Kan Bet public radio whether UTJ would support a bill like the 'French Law', he replied, “It’s a possibility. It’s not inconceivable that the suspicions [against Netanyahu] aren’t weighty ones.”

2000breach

Hayamin Hehadash told Haaretz that it didn’t rule out supporting such legislation. But last week, party leader Naftali Bennett said he would oppose any legislation that applied retroactively. The "French Law" would only help Netanyahu if it did apply retroactively.

Yisrael Beiteinu also declined to respond to Haaretz’s question. But party chairman Avigdor Lieberman said last week that even if Netanyahu were indicted, the party would continue sitting in his governing coalition.

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party, which recent polls have shown making it into the next Knesset, was the only party besides National Union to explicitly support such legislation. “We support a law that will grant immunity from standing trial” to the prime minister, it said.

But the Union of Right-Wing Parties, a joint ticket comprising Habayit Hayehudi, National Union and Otzma Yehudit, said the ticket hasn’t yet made up its mind on the issue despite Smotrich’s outspoken views. “The ticket will convene after the Knesset session opens and discuss Smotrich’s initiative,” it said.

Smotrich’s plan is not to enact a version of the "French Law," but rather to repeal a 2005 amendment to the Immunity Law. Until 2005, the Immunity Law barred any Knesset member from standing trial unless a majority of the Knesset voted to revoke his parliamentary immunity. Thus Smotrich’s proposal wouldn’t necessarily protect Netanyahu, since the Knesset could still vote to revoke his immunity, but it would require the attorney general to convince a majority of MKs that doing so was justified.