Knesset Corruption Panel

Israeli AG Avichai Mendelblit and Haim Katz during a Knesset House Committee hearing for Katz's immunity, February 4, 2020
Ohad Zwigenberg

At a time when corruption seems to have spread everywhere, perhaps there’s no reason to be surprised that the Knesset House Committee voted this week to grant immunity from prosecution to Likud MK Haim Katz. Perhaps there’s no reason to be outraged that of the committee’s 30 members, all 16 MKs from rightist and ultra-Orthodox parties took their colleague’s side and gave him immunity from standing trial for what Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit termed “fraud and breach of trust at the highest level,” involving a conflict of interests “that wasn’t far removed from bribery.”

Those who supported immunity chose to ignore the attorney general’s harsh statements. Mendelblit stressed that Katz had deceived his fellow MKs, the Knesset Ethics Committee and the general public. According to the indictment, he promoted a bill that could potentially have profited him personally, at the request of his financial adviser, Moti Ben-Ari. He even brought Ben-Ari to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee’s hearings as an independent expert, while concealing their relationship from the panel.

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But in a country where the prime minister has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust and has led the country into three elections in the space of a year in an effort to escape justice, who are we to complain that even one member of the opposition (MK Zvi Hauser) supported immunity for Katz, while others (Michael Biton, Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas) abstained?

Granted, the full Knesset must still approve the House Committee’s decision. And even then, Katz’s immunity will be in force only for another month, until the election. But this is still a badge of shame for the Knesset and our elected representatives. The existence of a culture of corruption can’t serve as justification for perpetuating it. On the contrary, this requires us to take a vigorous stance against it to prevent it from continuing to spread like a plague.

Instead of the hearings being guided by Mendelblit’s recommendation, this was also another opportunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to humiliate the attorney general for having filed indictments against him. One can only imagine the circus that Netanyahu’s partners would have made of the hearings had the committee ever discussed immunity for Netanyahu.

For the Knesset to grant immunity, certain conditions must apply. And in this case, according to the attorney general, they didn’t. We must therefore hope the full Knesset will show greater responsibility than the House Committee did. Katz should fight for his innocence only in court.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.