Benjamin Netanyahu asks for immunity from prosecution

Benjamin Netanyahu asks for immunity from prosecution
Israle's longest serving PM faces a third national election within a year which will be held in March. Source: Rafi Kutz
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Daily US Times, Tel Aviv: The Israeli Prime Minister has decided to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution over corruption charges which would likely delay a trial until after fresh elections next March.

Benjamin Netanyahu was officially indicted by the country’s attorney general for three separate cases of bribery, fraud, and breach of public trust in November last year.

Mr. Netaniyahu denied all the allegations and claimed the Justice Department set up a coup against him and the charges are a politically motivated “witch-hunt” against him.

His latest move would require the support of more than half of MPs for immunity to be granted.

Why did Netanyahu ask for immunity?

Israel’s longest-serving PM faces a third national election within a year which will be held in March.

He is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favors to try to get more positive press coverage.

In a televised speech of Netanyahu just hours before the deadline for an application was to expire, he requested for immunity in the charges.

He wants to clear his path to the election by asking this immunity. A trial cannot begin once an immunity request is made. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset is currently nonfunctional ahead of the new election. So its highly unlikely for Knesset to rule on the request before then.

In Israeli Law, members of the Knesset do not get automatic immunity from prosecution, but they can request for it when relevant.

If a sitting prime minister is convicted, he is required to step down.

The last two elections held in April and September last year, but Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party deadlocked with the centrist Blue and White – with neither able to form a government.

What has the reaction?

Israel’s political leaders reacted angrily to the immunity request. Netanyahu’s main rival form the Prime Minister Post Benny Gantz, said his Blue and White party would do everything it could to prevent immunity.

“I never imagined that we would see the day that the prime minister of Israel would avoid standing before the law and the justice system,” he said.

Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman also announced on Wednesday that his party would vote against the immunity request.