Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the ongoing inquiry into his affairs during the Knesset's version of British parliament's Question Time on Monday, calling the allegations "nothing but hot air."
- Publicizing details of Netanyahu inquiry now would be harmful, attorney general warns
- Former Netanyahu aide remanded to five days house arrest after 14-hour interrogation
- Israeli attorney general opens inquiry into Netanyahu amid police investigation
MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) asked Netanyahu, following rumors on social media, whether a false passport had been issued for his son Yair and under what circumstances citizens can have a false passport issued.
"It has been reported that a suspicion has been looked into that use has been made of a passport with a false name that the Mossad [espionage agency] issued for your son Yair Netanyahu to open a bank account in Panama to which hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribe funds were directed," she stated.
"I would like to ask you if in fact a passport was issued with a false name for your son Yair Netanyahu; and also under what circumstances and which citizens can seek to have a passport with a false name issued? In addition, how does this affect your functioning?"
A commotion erupted in the Knesset chamber following the question and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein asked that the question be disallowed on the grounds that it did not relate to any of the ministries for which Netanyahu is responsible, but the prime minister asked to respond in any event.
"Absolute rubbish," Netanyahu replied. "There is such a flood of talk, of nonsense, of invention, of lies, dealing with this for many years and haven't found anything for a simple reason. There's nothing there. There wasn't anything. In this case too, there's no fire, no smoke. There's hot air." "I say to those asking, and also to those with hope in their heart, don’t sew suits [meaning don't make things up]. Stop the tailors," Netanyahu added.
According to regulations, Question Time is to be held every few weeks, with either the prime minister or another minister responding to Knesset members’ questions for one hour. The ministers don't receive the questions in advance.
In the case of Netanyahu, he is to respond to questions for an hour and 40 minutes, rather than the usual hour, since he also serves as foreign minister, economy minister, communications minister and regional cooperation minister.
During the questions and answers session, Netanyahu was asked by MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) about his role as foreign ministers, suggesting that Netanyahu's many portfolios are harming Israel's foreign relations. "You call me a part time foreign minister," Netanyahu told Bahloul. "I checked: how many prime ministers, presidents, foreign ministers I met since the year started. How many? 120, I was told," Netanyahu added, listing his diplomatic achievements.
"I can tell you that two more countries are about to renew relations with us and this is only the beginning." Netanyahu stressed that Israel's ties "with the United States are strong. The support of the American public in Israel reaches 71 percent. We will probably also sign a military aid agreement for the next decade."
MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) asked the prime minister about government policy regarding how conversions to Judaism are handled. "I can't tell you that I have managed to reach a consensus. I haven't," Netanyahu acknowledged, apparently referring to authority to perform and recognize conversions.
"The rabbinate is not mine. It was established in arrangement in the State of Israel from the time [the country] was established and even before that," he said. Noting that there is a difference of opinion among members of the public over the proper place of Jewish religious law, he said he would have liked to come to a consensus on the conversion issue, but "up to now, I cannot tell you that I have been successful."
The prime minister was also asked about a U.S. Senate report that claimed that V15, an organization founded to oppose Netanyahu used the resources and the databases of a public diplomacy project relating to the peace process that had been funded by the U.S. State Department.
The report, issued by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said the material was not obtained by the V15 organization due to a deliberate decision by senior State Department officials, but reached the group because of negligence by midlevel diplomats. The investigation was launched last year, when the relationship between the OneVoice Movement, a group that received State Department funding to promote the peace process, and V15 came under scrutiny by right-wing media outlets in America and Israel.
The funding, transferred through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, was used to build a database of Israelis and Palestinians of voting age; to expand OneVoice’s presence on social media; and to recruit an American political consultant to train OneVoice’s executives and activists. The report states that after the project ended, OneVoice gave the database and social media infrastructure it had developed with State Department expense to V15.
"I want to explain what is improper about V15," Netanyahu said in response to the question. "We have non-profits that need to work with the minimum transparency, but there is one thing that we cannot accept – bypassing the election law. How does the [election] financing law work in Israel? It sets out how each party should fund its election. The law limits the amounts. V15 bypassed this. How? They said 'we're not giving to a party but rather opposing a party,'" apparently referring to his own Likud party.
The money, the prime minister said, was used to influence the results of last year's Knesset election. "We in Likud complained about this loophole and didn't get relief from the court. It's clear to me that this is intervention. These are huge sums. This needs to be stopped, for everyone, by the way."
The Knesset's question period was introduced in the current session of parliament in an effort to allow members of the opposition to challenge cabinet ministers with questions relating matters within the purview of their ministries and to try to breathe life into sessions of the full Knesset, which had become increasingly irrelevant. Each questioner has two minutes and responses are limited to three minutes. At least three-quarters of the questioners must come from the ranks of the opposition. The rules of the Knesset also separately provide for questions that are submitted to cabinet members in advance.