Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s evasive answer in his interview a week ago with Channel 12 News should set off alarm bells. The prime minister was asked whether, if reelected, would he would promote a bill to prevent his indictment in the corruption cases against him.
Netanyahu denied that he had dealt with such a bill, which in Israel is colloquially known as the French Law. He said that he had blocked such attempts, but he refused to commit to anything in the future, saying “I believe I won’t do that.”
His vague reply is worrisome mainly because he has coalition partners who are ready to pass such a law for him. This emerged from what their representatives said at the Haaretz Democracy Conference last week. The most explicit comments were by Bezalel Smotrich, a senior member of the Union of Right-Wing Parties. He promised to promote a new version of a bill giving Knesset members immunity from criminal prosecution.
“You can scream till you’re blue in the face that it’s the end of democracy, but until 2005 this was the law of the land,” Smotrich said. He’s not lying – a law provided immunity from prosecution to MKs, including the prime minister, with the lifting of such immunity requiring a Knesset majority. But he’s playing innocent.
The restoration of this law has nothing to do with democracy. The declared motive for renewed legislation in this matter is to protect Netanyahu from facing trial. Thus, even if technically Netanyahu has not yet been indicted, a new version of that law would be personal and retroactive.
MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism was less emphatic than Smotrich but left the door open. “Let’s see what comes up at the hearing,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing. “If there are things that disqualify Netanyahu from being prime minister, with transgressions that preclude this, we won’t support a French Law and will support his ouster. If we see that the aim is only to oust him and that it’s just a political ploy, we won’t agree to his ouster.”
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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked chose to warn against a “criminalization” of the political process, waxing philosophically about “the political process being one of horse trading, with the boundaries often lying in gray areas.” It’s hard to believe a justice minister talking like that after the attorney general has moved to indict Netanyahu in three separate cases, pending a hearing.
These days, pushing a bill granting immunity is connected solely to attempts to free Netanyahu from his troubles. Netanyahu may not be “dealing with it,” but his partners are expected to do so for him. This is a deliberate attack on the rule of law, with the goal of helping the prime minister escape justice, clearly indicating that he’s not equal before the law. This is one more reason not to vote for right-wing parties.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.