Knesset Lawyer Issues Ruling on Netanyahu Immunity Request Despite Conflict Claims

Netanyahu indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust: justice ministry
AFP/GALI TIBBON

TEL AVIV – A Likud petition to block the Knesset’s chief legal counsel from publishing a ruling relating to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request in the three criminal cases facing him was rejected Sunday, paving the way for the formation of a committee that will likely decline the prime minister’s request. 

The petition, filed by Likud Knesset faction chair MK Miki Zohar on the party’s behalf, requested Eyal Yinon’s legal opinion on affairs relating to Netanyahu be disqualified on account of Yinon’s wife Amit Merari’s position in the prosecutor’s office. Merari, who serves as the deputy attorney general, was directly involved in formulating the criminal indictments against the prime minister.

Yinon on Sunday issued a legal opinion which called for blocking Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein from preventing the formation of a House Committee to deal with the immunity request.

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s chief rival and the head of the Blue and White party, responded to Yinon’s ruling by instructing his faction chairman, MK Avi Nissenkorn, “to convene the Arrangements Committee as soon as possible in order to establish the Knesset committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity.

“Netanyahu asked for it, and Netanyahu will get it,” he said.

Last week, Yinon reiterated his position that there was no legal impediment in forming such a committee after Nissankorn presented Edelstein with signatures from 65 MKs – a majority – in its favor.

Zohar called Yinon’s opinion “delusional.”

In his petition at the 90th hour, Zohar claimed Yinon violated the terms of a conflict of interest agreement.

“The Knesset attorney-general is unfortunately in total breach of the conflict of interest contract he signed, and in violation of the conflict of interest agreement signed by his spouse, which is in complete contravention of the law, and in a manner that undermines public confidence in the important institution of the Knesset legal adviser,” his petition claimed.

In 2017, Merari signed a COI stating that Yinon in his Knesset post “will not be involved in any matters that I, too, am involved in.” Yinon, too, signed a similar conflict of interest document.The petition claims that if Yinon had had links to Netanyahu’s defense team, he would have been immediately prevented from ruling on the issue.

“Does anyone actually believe that if Yinon’s spouse was on the prime minister’s defense team, he would have been able to be directly or indirectly involved in any matter relating to the prime minister? Would that not have disqualified him from discussing the matter? Just as that scenario would have rightly led to the disqualification of his opinions then the same should stand now,” the Likud petition went on.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu slammed Yinon, saying he “was caught red-handed in a conflict of interest. Can you believe that? They’ve lost their sense of shame… He and his wife claim they did not discuss my case. Do they think we’re stupid?”

Likud supporters have argued the committee should not be formed because the government is an interim one and there would not be enough time to debate the matter.

Yinon has admitted there were several challenges involved in holding immunity hearings in the run-up to elections, not least of all that during the election period the Knesset does not engage in controversial matters.

However, he concluded the Knesset’s standard electoral process cannot be allowed to “undermine the authority of the House Committee to discuss the immunity request” and that it should be done “as soon as possible.”

If the House Committee is convened within the next two weeks, it will likely decide against Netanyahu’s request for immunity and pave the way for an official indictment against the prime minister before the national elections on March 2.

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