In an interview on Meet the Press on Channel 12 Saturday night, former minister Naftali Bennett suggested that should prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu be reelected and the Attorney General decides to indict him, he, Bennett would probably support giving the prime minister immunity from prosecution.
“Israel’s greatest need right now is stability,” Bennett argued. “If there is a stable government in place, it would take something very extreme for me to object to providing immunity.”
As of January 2017, Netanyahu has been questioned by the Israeli police on two issues: Case 1000, which includes suspicion of receiving personal favors from businessmen the PM was dealing with as part of his official duties; and Case 2000, regarding talks between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Amnon (Noni) Moses, during which, allegedly, Moses offered Netanyahu positive coverage and hiring his choice of reporters in exchange for eliminating Israel Hayom’s weekend edition.
Regarding these suspicions, Netanyahu has quipped repeatedly: “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
In February 2018, after about a year and a half of investigations, Police concluded that there was evidentiary basis for indictments in both cases, for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and this position was endorsed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Netanyahu’s pre-trial hearing on files 1000 and 2000 will be held on October 2 and 3, some two weeks following the September 19 general elections.
Bennett, who in the past stated that if the AG decided to indict, he would consider his response, explained that the situation had changed because of the second election.
“I don’t intend that the State of Israel become some kind of a banana republic that’s going to new elections every six months,” Bennett said. “It is a national interest that lies at the very heart of the State of Israel.”
Bennett argued that the very question of the PM’s immunity the Knesset would be contemplating raises the MKs’ need to balance the various interests involved.
“There is a vested interest in moral uprightness and there is a vested interest in governing the most complex country in the world which is threatened by Iran, Syria and Lebanon,” he said. “When you balance it all out, you have to take everything into account. If it were about murder or rape, it’s one thing, but if it’s about other things it’s a different story.”
Bennett’s party, Yamina, is concerned that no matter how well it would do come election day, Netanyahu could opt for a broad coalition with the center-right Blue&White which would exile them, possibly along with the Haredim, to the opposition wilderness. This may be the reason Bennett is eager to signal to Netanyahu that while his potential partners to his left might ditch him should he be indited, Yamina would remain loyal him in his time of need.
Bennett’s party chairwoman, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, on Sunday morning she backed her party member’s position in an interview she gave Army Radio, saying, “I bless Netanyahu that his cases will be dropped. We are against changing the Immunity Law, and should the prime minister decide to appeal to the Knesset committee for immunity, then we will consider everything and decide according to the good of the State of Israel.”
“The stability consideration is very significant,” Shaked stressed. “The law governing the indictment of a prime minister is very clear: it allows him to serve until a final judgment is ruled. This is so that one person’s decision, the attorney general’s, not result in a government coup. And in weighing the prime minister’s request for immunity everything must be considered, including the stability of the government.”
“There are other significant issues at stake: Israel’s economy, the security situation, the education health systems. You can’t just deal with Netanyahu’s immunity, you have to consider other fundamental considerations,” Shaked said.