In Israel, Netanyahu Seeks Immunity From Prosecution While Facing Indictment
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And let's go next to Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing indictment on corruption charges. Today, he is asking Parliament to give him immunity from prosecution. Netanyahu says the charges against him are bogus. And now he says giving him immunity would be good for Israel. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Jerusalem, where he's following this. Hey, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: OK, so he says the charges are bogus. Immunity is a good idea. What exactly is he requesting?
ESTRIN: He's asking the Israeli parliament exercise its authority and grant him immunity. Otherwise, his trial would start right away. Now, technically, he can remain prime minister and stand trial at the same time what he's asking today is to delay his trial until he's out of office. And according to the law, Netanyahu can get immunity if he convinces the parliament that the charges against him are illegitimate or that a trial would be against the public interest. And just a reminder - he's facing bribery and other charges. He's accused of doing favors for some media moguls and getting cigars and champagne and fawning press coverage in return.
KELLY: And Netanyahu actually spoke tonight, right? Where did he speak? What did he say?
ESTRIN: Right. He spoke on live TV. And he tried to explain why he was doing this, why he's asking for immunity because this is a controversial move. A recent poll suggests that about half of Israelis do not support him getting immunity. So he spoke in this kind of nonchalant voice. And here's what he said. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).
ESTRIN: He said immunity protects public leaders from trumped up charges. And he says there's a deep-state effort by justice officials, the left wing, the media to topple him. And he said immunity is a totally normal thing for a democracy. And it's a good thing. It protects the will of the public. The public voted him to be their leader. And so that's what should be. And he also argued that this move would benefit Israel. He said he's on the verge of great things, like securing new peace treaties from Arab countries. And he also promised that he would move ahead and annex land in the occupied West Bank, which would be controversial around the world but probably very popular among many Israelis.
KELLY: Now, I'm imagining that Netanyahu's political opponents see all of this quite differently. And just to remind, you have yet more elections coming up in March, right? No shortage of elections there in Israel.
ESTRIN: That's right. Former Army General Benny Gantz is running against Netanyahu. He's a centrist. He got on TV right after Netanyahu spoke. And he's usually a very mild-mannered guy, but he was in attack mode this evening. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BENNY GANTZ: (Non-English language spoken).
ESTRIN: He said Netanyahu knows he's guilty. Otherwise, he wouldn't be scared to stand trial.
KELLY: Just quickly, Daniel, do we know when parliament will decide what to do about this?
ESTRIN: Well, we think that this is going to be playing out for a long time. In normal circumstances, the parliament would immediately convene and hold votes on whether to grant Netanyahu immunity. And - but right now there's no functioning parliament. And we're facing elections here. And so this probably buys Netanyahu several months.
KELLY: All righty. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel. Happy New Year.
ESTRIN: You, too. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.