MK Mickey Zohar (Likud) on Tuesday morning submitted a bill to amend the immunity law, which is expected to ultimately allow Prime Minister Netanyahu—who faces an indictment subject to a hearing—to postpone the legal proceedings against him to the end of his term, which has already eclipsed all his predecessors on the throne save for David Ben Gurion – who should be passed by this coming July.
Needless to say, the amendment bill has aroused a slew of negative reactions on both ends of the political spectrum, which obscured the fact that the proposed amendment actually calls to eliminate an earlier amendment which completely reversed the immunity law back in 2005.
Until July 2005, the Knesset Members’ immunity law of 1951, immunity was automatic and granted even without a request from the MK in question. In fact, removing an immunity required the decision of the House Committee and the plenum’s decision in a secret ballot.
The current immunity law distinguishes between a substantive immunity for an MK against criminal sanctions for actions he performed in the course of his official duties – this immunity is absolute and cannot be removed; and parliamentary immunity for an MK who was indicted for actions that were not clearly related to his work as a legislator.
The latter can appeal to the house committee and request immunity for any of the following reasons: 1. the offense was committed in order to fulfill his duties as a Knesset member; 2. the indictment was filed in bad faith and in deviation from the prosecution’s policy; 3. the MK’s penalty has already been exhausted by the ethics committee; and 4. the prosecution would harm the functioning of the Knesset and the representation of the electorate.
Should the House Committee decide to accede to the MK’s request, the Knesset plenum must vote on it in an open ballot. To date, the Knesset removed a member’s immunity 25 times, for a variety of charges ranging from speeding to sexual harassment to bribery to treason.
The amended version of the immunity law would mean that the AG would have to request that the Knesset remove the prime minister’s immunity before he could proceed with the hearing that would come ahead of an indictment. Even if Netanyahu loses in the end, and the Knesset takes away his immunity (which is not unthinkable), the process could easily gain him at least a year, an eternity in political terms.
Several Likud members, current and former lawmakers, criticized the proposed amendment saying it was anti-democratic and would mark the party as irredeemably corrupt. This could mean the start of the post-Netanyahu internal warfare in Likud, especially since the PM’s mortal enemy, MK Gideon Saar, skewered him over the move, suggesting the amended law would yield “zero benefit” and cause “maximum damage.”
“What the citizens of Israel heard from me and from the prime minister himself on the eve of the elections was that there is no intention of passing such laws,” Saar said last Thursday. “Personal legislation is wrong, it is liable to damage the public’s trust in the Likud, and will not benefit Netanyahu.”
Opposition MKs warned this would effectively bring an end to democracy, turning Israel into an Erdoğan-style state, where the leader is free to promote his interests because he enjoys the majority of the votes (not for long, it appears).