Israeli Defense Minister Is Not Against Legislation to Block Netanyahu Trial

Naftali Bennett also voiced support for legislation that would let the Knesset override Supreme Court decisions

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Defense Minister Naftali Bennett
Defense Minister Naftali BennettCredit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The head of one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key coalition partners said Thursday that he might support a bill granting sitting prime ministers immunity from prosecution.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Yamina electoral alliance, told Army Radio that he’s “very much in favor” of such a law in principle, and “when a specific bill is submitted in a particular context, I’ll consider it based on what’s submitted.”

Nevertheless, he added, “Netanyahu himself said he won’t submit this bill, so there’s no need to discuss it.”

In fact, when initially asked in an interview earlier this week, Netanyahu didn’t rule out the option. But in subsequent interviews he said that he would defeat his indictments in court instead.

“What we’ve seen over the last 20 years,” Bennett said, “is that all prime ministers were under a criminal cloud during their terms, which made it hard for them to function.” Moreover, nothing terrible would happen if their investigations and trials “were postponed until the end of their term.”

Nevertheless, he added, any such law should contain exceptions for “particularly serious offenses” such as murder, theft and rape. Bennett also said that prime ministers should be prohibited from remaining in office beyond eight or 10 years at most.

Bennett also voiced support for legislation that would let the Knesset override Supreme Court decisions, “because the legal system in recent decades has moved from being a judge to being a quasi-ruler. ... They took power for themselves, and I think we need to restore the balance.”

A year ago, Bennett said his party wouldn’t support a law granting sitting prime ministers immunity if it applied retroactively to Netanyahu’s cases, but would consider one that applied to future cases. The Knesset last discussed such a bill in 2017, when Netanyahu was still only under investigation. However, that bill went nowhere.

Meanwhile, a special government permits committee announced Thursday that it will consider Netanyahu’s request to accept donations to finance his legal defense on March 15, just two days before his trial is scheduled to begin.

The committee, which is part of the State Comptroller’s Office, rejected this request three times in the past. But its membership recently changed, and earlier this week the new members agreed to reconsider the request for a fourth time, on the grounds that the imminent start of Netanyahu’s trial represented a “significant change in the circumstances.”

In a letter to Netanyahu’s lawyers, the panel said that they would have to submit “detailed arguments about the circumstances that would justify acceding” to Netanyahu’s request for permission to accept money from American businessman Spencer Partrich. The attorneys will also have to submit evidence to prove their claims, it added.

Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases.

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