Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to pursue the passage “with full force” of a bill that would grant him immunity from criminal prosecution while he is prime minister, Sheldon Adelson's pro-Netanyahu Daily Israel Hayom reported on Thursday.
According to the report, Netanyahu told outgoing cabinet members from his Likud party that such a law would enable him to avoid having to appear in court in the morning and conduct a security cabinet meeting the same evening.
Netanyahu is facing possible criminal indictment in three separate corruption cases. The decision to file actual indictments is up to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and is subject to a pre-indictment hearing.
According to Israel Hayom, the prime minister told his Likud colleagues that once an immunity bill is passed, any criminal proceedings against him would be suspended until he leaves office.
Netanyahu said an immunity law would permit him “to be a full-time prime minister and to serve the public without concern for the moment over [my] legal fate,” the report stated.
In addition, the premier said the opposition is opposed to legislation that would limit the authority of the courts because it wants to oust him from office.
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On Wednesday, Channel 12 News reported that the prime minister and his associates had recently briefed Likud members on how the immunity bill should be explained to the public. “Israeli citizens knew what my situation was and they elected me,” the station quoted Netanyahu as saying.
“If I had been thinking about my personal advantage, I would have had the trial while prime minister and not as a private citizen, but I understand that this would not be for the good of the country,” the prime minister said.
In an interview with Kan Reshet Bet radio on Thursday, Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich (Union of Right-Wing Parties) expressed support for a change in the current immunity law, which does not automatically confer immunity on Knesset members.
“The populism that is trying to turn this into a kind of city of refuge is a very great injustice in my opinion,” he said. “I submitted this bill back in the last [Knesset] term. Throughout the election campaign, I announced that I intended to demand it, without any connection to Netanyahu.”
Smotrich expressed concern that the court system “would abuse its authority vis-à-vis the legislative and executive” branches of government, which he said justifies providing elected officials immunity.
In a separate interview on Reshet Bet, retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who also served as Israel’s attorney general, was critical of the idea of legislation that would grant the prime minister immunity through legislation, saying that a law tailored to grant a specific individual immunity is inappropriate.
Rubinstein said: "I'm not speaking as a hater of Netanyahu. I also admire things that he has done.”
Rubinstaein warned however that “If we reach a situation in which a person whom the attorney general thinks, following a [pre-indictment] hearing, should be put on trial … and immunity would be his ‘land of refuge,’ it would turn us into a Third World country.”
The retired justice labelled the concept “a crazy idea” that was unacceptable from the standpoint of the country’s values. “That’s not what immunity was designed for.”
Prior to the April 9 election, Netanyahu denied that he intended to push for legislation that would enable him to avoid prosecution. In interviews with Channels 12 and 20, he said he was not dealing with the issue and had no intention to seek a change in the existing law.