'New Right' Party Won't Support Bill to Protect Netanyahu From Indictment, Says Bennett

Co-leader of right-wing Hayamin Hehadash 'generally supports' proposed law to bar criminal investigations against a sitting PM, but not one that would apply retroactively

Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, February 24, 2019
Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday his party wouldn't support a law that would prohibit indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while in office.

Bennett, co-leader of Hayamin Hehadash, told Israeli public radio he "generally supports" such law, known as "The French Law," but not one that would apply retroactively.

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Speaking days after the attorney general's decision to indict Netanyahu in three corruption probes pending a hearing, Bennett said: "There's a draft indictment against the prime minister, and that's all it is. I don't like this situation … but at the end of the day, I know I have the power to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. If [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked and I wouldn't be there to counter pressures, it'll happen."

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Netanyahu's party has been trying to advance a "French Law," in a bid to bring criminal cases against him to a halt. In theory, the proposed legislation is not expected to apply retroactively.

Previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed, and it is unclear whether Netanyahu, should he be reelected in Israel's April 9 election, would have the support of other parties for it.

National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich took to Twitter to respond to former party leader Bennett. "We will support," he said. Should Netanyahu be re-relected, "there would be a need for a law to delay his trial, to serve ... the public's will and best administer the state by the elected leader."

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Meanwhile, Likud MK Benny Begin told Israeli army radio on Sunday that Netanyahu's statements against Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in a Thursday speech are "very worrying and baseless," and vouched for Mendelblit's integrity. Follwing Mendelblit's announcement, Netanyahu said he gave in to "the left's pressure" and called him "submissive."

Other Likud members who spoke to Israeli radio on Sunday defended the prime minister. "It is no secret there's an ongoing attempt to discredit the prime minister ... who is innocent until proven otherwise," said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the probe against Netanyahu "is being exploited to take down the right and let the left rise to power."

All current coalition parties, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu, Bennett and Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, said they would join a new coalition led by Netanyahu, despite Mendelblit's announcement Thursday that he would be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases, pending a hearing.

Four parties — Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties — said they would continue as Netanyahu’s coalition partners even if he were indicted. 

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid's Kahol Lavan, the Labor Party, Meretz, and Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad said they would not join any Netanyahu-led government.

The day after the attorney general’s decision on Netanyahu's cases, polls published by public broadcaster Kan and Channel 13 signal a reversal in the blocs: 61 seats for the center-left, as opposed to the right-wing’s 59. This is the first time since election was announced that poll results show the center-left bloc pulling ahead.