Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset.

Likud MKs close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have told Kan News that in talks with them, Yamina chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said that she intends to vote against granting legal immunity to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if and when the issue becomes relevant and comes to a Knesset vote.

Shaked reportedly was not talking about a vote to change the Knesset Immunity Law but a vote on granting the PM immunity from criminal indictments under existing law.

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According to those Likud MKs, Shaked explained that she would deny Netanyahu his immunity from prosecution because he, Netanyahu (reportedly under pressure from his wife, Sara, who loathes Shaked), blocked Ayelet’s entry into the Likud a few weeks ago, so that hers is the ultimate revenge dish served cold.

Ayelet Shaked in a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019.

To readers who occasionally accuse yours truly of involving straight reporting with personal views, the following is public knowledge, not personal opinion: there has been bad blood between the Netanyahus (meaning Bibi and Sara) and Shaked and her political partner Naftali Bennett since the latters were dumped from Bibi’s team back in 2008, just before his storied political resurrection in 2009. This election, the same bad blood has been boiling and festering to become a central campaign issue for both Likud and the newly named Yamina.

As to the immunity issue, until 2005, Knesset members enjoyed automatic immunity from criminal prosecution, which the Knesset had the authority to remove so that an MK could be prosecuted. The purpose of the old law was to allow MKs to conduct investigations on issues related to complaints from the public or to new legislation, without risking a confrontation with police and the courts.

In most cases where an MK faced prosecution, their immunity was removed, and only in a smattering of cases did the Knesset refuse to remove the immunity, and the decision was passed to the supreme court.

Ayelet Shaked and Benjamin Netanyahu, December 21, 2016.

Then, because of serious public criticism, the law was amended in 2005, reversed, really, and the new version decrees that an MK does not enjoy automatic immunity, and must request such an immunity from the Knesset – the default setting is no immunity.

The proposed new reversal of the Immunity Law seeks to once again grant automatic immunity from prosecution to MKs, including the prime minister, as well as ministers and deputy ministers who are not MKs. The decision to remove an immunity will be up to the Knesset committee, followed by a plenary vote.

Shaked denied the Likud’s accusations that she would necessarily deny Netanyahu his immunity, saying she would only oppose the proposed reversal of the Immunity Law.

Regarding the question of Netanyahu’s future request for his personal immunity, Shaked told Kan News she had not yet decided how she would act in such a circumstance, and would reach a decision only when the issue becomes a reality and all the details would be in front of her.

It appears she enjoyed herself tremendously when she represented this view to the media, but that’s just my personal impression…

On Tuesday, the prime minister launched an offensive against the Yamina chairwoman, calling her “the new Tzipi Livni.”

Now, that’s quite an insult to a rightwing leader, peppered with a spoonful of misogyny. In rightwing circles, Livni is maybe not the devil, but one of his minions for sure. Bibi gained huge popularity when, in February 2014, he fired two of his senior ministers, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, with the statement: “In recent weeks, including in the past 24 hours, ministers Lapid and Livni have sharply attacked my government. I will no longer tolerate opposition within the government and will not tolerate ministers who attack the government, its policies and its leaders.”

Netanyahu recently fired Livni’s successor in the justice ministry, Ayelet Shaked, from his provisional government, along with her partner, Naftali Bennett. There were no statements to the press, he just dropped them because he could. He could have waited until after the next elections, but he wanted them politically disemboweled, deprived of their access to the security cabinet meetings. He also did not assemble the cabinet from the declaration of new elections until Shaked and Bennett were fired.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 17, 2019.

So, why exactly should Ayelet Shaked be in his corner should the State Prosecutor summon Netanyahu to face three criminal indictments?

This week, Netanyahu reportedly instructed senior Likud officials to attack Shaked in media interviews, no holds barred, with the talking point that “Shaked has no principles and may not recommend me after the elections.”

The Yamina party responded: “Likud’s wild attacks on us show that they have given up on the right and are pursuing a government with the left. Only voting for Yamina will ensure rightwing rule.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Shaked’s colleague, Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich, attacked Netanyahu – after having already apologized for calling the PM a weak leader. Smotrich tweeted “Netanyahu’s new strategy to blow up the rightwing troops carrier shows that he has given up on forging rightwing government and is aiming to form a leftwing government after the elections. It must be said, painfully: this time a vote for Netanyahu is a vote for a leftwing government.”

Smotrich is not wrong. When attempting to cobble the next coalition government, Netanyahu is facing a ceiling of between 54 and 58 Knesset mandates, at least three short of the no-confidence proof coalition, should he rely only on his natural, rightwing allies: United Torah Judaism, Shas, and Yamina. Without Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman’s projected 10 to 11 mandates, Bibi is stuck.

At the same time, according to Liberman himself, he would gladly enter a Likud-led coalition under the leadership of any Likud leader other than Netanyahu.

These are trying days for Benjamin Netanyahu.

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