Benjamin Netanyahu requests immunity from criminal prosecution

Jan. 1 (UPI) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday he has requested immunity from prosecution on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu said in a televised speech from Jerusalem’s Orient Hotel Wednesday night that he had sent a letter of request to the Knesset, explaining that it is not an attempt to evade justice as immunity would only be in place during the term of the parliament that granted it.

“I will come to court and quash all the ridiculous libels against me,” he said. “The immunity law is intended to protect elected officials from manufactured cases, and guarantee that those elected by the people can serve the people according to their will and not the will of the legal officials.”

The three charges against him were unveiled in November, accusing him of having received gifts as the prime minister, paid for favorable news coverage and made regulatory moves to benefit news outlets in exchange for positive coverage.

In the letter written by his lawyers to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu reiterated his innocence and requested immunity claiming the prosecution discriminatorily targeted him and that the court proceedings would harm the government.

When the charges were first announced, Netanyahu dismissed them, describing the lengthy investigation that produced the three indictments as a “witch hunt.”

The request comes as Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, is campaigning to secure a fourth term at the country’s helm. The country is to head to the polls March 2 after he twice failed in 2019 to cobble together a coalition government.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party and Netanyahu’s chief political rival, lambasted the immunity request in a televised speech of his own.

“I never imagined we would see the day when a prime minister of Israel would avoid standing before the law and the courts,” Gantz said.

The former military chief said the request shows that Netanyahu understands he is guilty and that the choice of granting immunity comes down to choosing between “the kingdom of Netanyahu or the state of Israel.”

He said his party will amend the immunity law to prevent a prime minister from escaping criminal charges, calling such immunity corruption.

“We will not allow the legislature to become a haven for criminals,” he said on Twitter.

Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu Party, said they will vote down the immunity request, saying the country has been “taken hostage by [Netanyahu’s] personal and private problems.”

“We are not going to be part of an immunity coalition,” he said. “We will vote against immunity.”

The Knesset House Committee, which has been defunct over the last year due to the consecutive elections, will next discuss whether to grant the immunity request.

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