Israel‘s far-right Prime Minister for the past decade, Benjamin Netanyahu, requested immunity from the Knesset late Wednesday night, January 1, for prosecution in three corruption cases in which he faces indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu made the request in a nationally televised appearance four hours before a midnight deadline, defending his request as protection from what he termed are “trumped-up charges.”
The previous Saturday, December 28, Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, tweeted a propos the anticipated request by Netanyahu, “I call on the entire public to seek immunity against the flu, not against an indictment of bribery.”
Members of Knesset, including the Prime Minister, are entitled by law to request parliamentary immunity from prosecution. The request is considered by the Knesset’s House Committee. If the request is approved in committee, it is then passed on to a vote in the full 120-member Knesset.
Under Israeli law, Knesset members can request immunity citing one of four reasons: protection of freedom of expression; prosecutors were acting in bad faith or discriminating against the member; the Knesset has already disciplined the member and there is no public interest in a trial or criminal proceedings that would cause serious damage to the functioning of the Knesset, its committees, or the will of the voters; There would not be considerable damage to the public interest without a trial.
However, the House Committee has not been formed since Israel’s election in April 2019 began a period of prolonged political deadlock. Elections last September failed to break that deadlock, and once again, no House Committee was formed. Without a seated committee, there is no way to consider Netanyahu’s request for immunity, putting any criminal proceedings against the Prime Minister on hold at least until the upcoming elections on March 2.
Members of the opposition have said they would seek to form a temporary House Committee to consider the immunity request, but it is unclear at this stage if such a move is likely to happen. Blue & White and Labor-Gesher on Wednesday evening, January 1, called for the revival of the non-functional panel. Together with the Joint List and Democratic Camp, whose leaders have expressed support in the past for ousting Netanyahu, they appear to have the majority of lawmakers in the parliament to vote to revive the House Committee — and then shoot down Netanyahu’s bid for immunity. “The Knesset is not a refuge for bribery suspects,” said a Hadash Knesset faction spokesperson, “We will work to form the Knesset House Committee to thwart Netanyahu’s plan to elude justice from being implemented.”