Netanyahu has 30 days to receive immunity from Knesset
AG, Knesset legal adviser issue decisions regarding when PM trial may start • Dermer, ex-Mossad chief to testify in Jerusalem.
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit published a list of 333 prosecution witnesses on Monday in the public corruption indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including highly prominent names like Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and former Mossad director Tamir Pardo.
In addition, Mandelblit informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that the 30-day period for calculating when Netanyahu must decide whether he will seek immunity from the Knesset from prosecution based on his being an MK will start as of Monday.
The list also mentions top political officials like Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and a comprehensive list of top Netanyahu advisers, including three who turned state’s witness.
Mandelblit published the witness list as part of a letter to Edelstein informing him that the trial against Netanyahu was set to take place in the Jerusalem District Court before a panel of three judges.
The attorney-general sent the letter to address procedural objections by Netanyahu’s lawyers.
Netanyahu’s lawyers had claimed that Mandelblit’s decision to indict the prime minister, which was issued November 21, lacked key pieces of information without which the 30-day “clock” could not start.
According to Netanyahu’s lawyers, the 30-day clock could not start until Mandelblit had specifically designated what court Netanyahu would be tried in, as well as there being a requirement to provide a complete list of witnesses that would be used against him.
Virtually every previous MK who was indicted declined to seek immunity. But many expect Netanyahu to take advantage of the Knesset being out of session to push off the whole question for months.
Having a former Mossad director like Tamir Pardo testify in open court is nearly unprecedented.
Reportedly, Pardo will testify that as part of Case 1000, Netanyahu’s tycoon billionaire friend Arnon Milchin asked Pardo if he would allow Yossi Cohen to be present for a key business meeting.
Pardo allegedly refused, saying that the Mossad could not be drawn into personal endeavors.
Netanyahu ultimately ordered the IDF to grant usage of a helicopter to Milchin for holding the meeting.
This is one of multiple incidents where Netanyahu allegedly threw the weight of his office behind Milchin in a situation where he had a conflict of interest, since Milchin was also providing the prime minister with a regular supply of gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Besides the national security implications of having a former Mossad chief testify, Pardo has been a regular critic of Netanyahu’s policies since stepping down.
Former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin and former national security adviser Uzi Arad are also listed as witnesses.
Dermer was allegedly involved in Netanyahu’s efforts to pressure the US State Department to issue Milchin a US visa.
Besides the full telling of how the halls of power, reaching all the way to then-US secretary of state John Kerry, were allegedly used by Netanyahu for non-state purposes, Dermer is also one of the prime minister’s longest-standing confidantes.
This will put Dermer in an extremely awkward position as he tries to maintain loyalty to Netanyahu while avoiding perjuring himself.
Other close Netanyahu associates includes Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, owners of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper.
Sheldon Adelson has testified that he was unhappy with the prime minister’s efforts to reduce Israel Hayom’s competitiveness in order to gain favor with Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon Nuni Mozes.
His testimony was a key piece in convincing Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu in Case 2000 involving Israel Hayom.
One-time close Netanyahu supporter and World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder is also on the witness list, along with Milchin, tycoons James Packer and Spencer partridge, and Netanyahu cousin and financial backer Natan Milikowsky.
Milikowsky may also be connected to a newer probe into Netanyahu’s investments and his disclosures of those investments to the State Comptroller’s Office.
Other close Netanyahu advisers listed include: cousin and lawyer David Shimron, Perach Lerner, David Sharan, and Ran Baratz.
The three former close Netanyahu associates who have become state’s witnesses are Shlomo Filber, Nir Hefetz and Ari Harow.
Filber and Hefetz form the heart of Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, and are the keys to the reason that Netanyahu was ultimately indicted. Harow has a much more minor role, mostly related to Case 2000.
Yet after all of those witnesses, some of the biggest fireworks may come from one of Netanyahu’s greatest enemies, Lapid, who is expected to testify that when he was finance minister, Netanyahu tried to get him to help pass a law that would give massive tax exemptions to Milchin as part of Case 1000.
He refused, and the tax exemption never went forward.
But there is far more drama to Lapid testifying against Netanyahu in court now that Lapid is viewed as the key force keeping Blue and White from joining forces with the Likud in a national unity government.
Lapid and others who dislike Netanyahu, like former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and former Labor Mk Eitan Cabel, may relish the opportunity to rake Netanyahu over the coals in court.
However, others like Erdan, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Livni and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who are all part of Netanyahu’s party, may have a harder time on the stand balancing their loyalty to him with answering questions which could hurt the prime minister’s case.
In particular, Erdan left the communications ministry with a range of anti-Bezeq reforms ready to move forward only to watch Netanyahu slow or quash some of the reforms when the prime minister took over the post.
These allegations are at the center of Case 4000, but Erdan reportedly did not hold back from talking about why the reforms he pushed – and which Netanyahu tried to stop or slow – were necessary.
This could put him in an awkward spot with Netanyahu.
It is unclear whether former Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal will seek to help Netanyahu as an ideological supporter of Netanyahu, or whether his role in opening up the allegations of Netanyahu trying to bribe his way into positive media coverage at Walla – where Magal worked and kept ties – will make him a damaging witness.
Meanwhile, Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon determined on Monday that the Knesset can begin the process of voting on whether to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution should MKs choose to do so.
Despite Yinon’s ruling, most MKs are likely to oppose forming the House Committee that can vote on the matter. Because there is no government or coalition, the 22nd Knesset’s permanent committees, including the House Committee, have not been formed.
Yinon answered questions from several MKs in his ruling, in which he wrote: “At this time there is no legal requirement for the Knesset to establish the House Committee.”
However, he added, “if MKs think that in light of the importance of the discussion of the immunity there is a reason to make an except to the accepted management of the Knesset” – namely, that permanent committees are not formed until there is a coalition – “and there is a majority in favor of establishing a permanent House Committee at this point, I do not think there is a legal prohibition against doing so.”
Another committee, like the temporary Knesset Arrangements Committee led by Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn, may not hold a vote on immunity.
If the House Committee is not formed in the coming days, and because another election seems likely at this point, a vote on Netanyahu’s immunity will likely be delayed five to six months until an election takes place and a new government is formed.
If the House Committee is formed, it will have to vote on Netanyahu’s request immediately, Yinon wrote.
Netanyahu would likely lose such a vote, because the right-wing bloc supporting him has 55 seats, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said at last month’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference that the prime minister should have his day in court.
However, Liberman said last week that he does not support establishing a House Committee at this time, which means there won’t be a majority to do so.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, one of the lawmakers who wrote to Yinon, urged Liberman to change his position and support forming a committee.
If Liberman wants a unity government like he says he does, he must be willing to cast the deciding vote in this matter, Zandberg said.
Zandberg accused Netanyahu of wanting to call another election for the express purpose of delaying a vote on his immunity.
In the regular immunity request process, the House Committee must vote on whether to grant an MK immunity. If it votes yes, then another vote is held in the plenum.
Another major issue from Monday was that the designation of Jerusalem for the trial, as opposed to Tel Aviv, gives Netanyahu a better chance for an acquittal.
Past studies have shown that Jerusalem judges tend to be more deferential to indicted public figures than Tel Aviv judges.