23:57 GMT12 August 2020
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    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not surprise many when he gathered a press conference on Wednesday night and announced that he had requested the country's parliament, the Knesset, to grant him immunity.

    The premier, who has been facing a series of graft probes, says the plea was his legal right and that it was needed for him to "continue to lead Israel" for the sake of its future.

    Netanyahu believes the charges against him, which he denies, were part of a broader left-wing campaign to delegitimise him and remove him from the office that he has occupied for the past eleven years.

    Divided We Stand

    While his supporters back the premier's claims, his critics have been quick to respond saying immunity is a tool in the hands of Netanyahu to escape justice.

    Yair Lapid, one of the Blue and White party chiefs who is critical of the premier, took to social media to mock the PM.

    "Immunity is not a cornerstone of democracy. Rather, [in Netanyahu's case], it is a stone thrown in the head of the democracy".

    ​His fellow party member Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White, was also vocal about Netanyahu's plea for immunity.

    "We will make corrections to the law of immunity so that it will be impossible to use it to evade criminal offences... we will not allow the parliament to be turned into an asylum for criminals".

    ​Israeli law has already been amended once before. In 2005, immunity was given to all Israeli parliamentarians in an attempt to protect them from potential persecution while fulfilling their duties. But the legislation that elevated Knesset members above the law was met by criticism from the Israeli public. So the law was changed and now offers immunity only to those members of parliament who explicitly ask for it.

    Without the formal request, Netanyahu's indictment bill would have landed on the desk of a Tel Aviv court on Sunday. Now, however, since an official request has been filed, it will not happen. 

    That is, not until the Knesset sets up a special committee - featuring representatives of all parties - to discuss Netanyahu's request. Once this is done and the committee reaches its conclusions, the plea will then transferred to the Knesset's general assembly who will vote on whether the premier should be given immunity.

    But there is the catch: the Knesset was dissolved several weeks ago, triggering another general vote, set for early March. The practical meaning of this is that the parliament will not be able to vote on Netanyahu's request until after the upcoming elections and until one of the candidates manages to form a government. Given the fact that no candidate has managed to do it so far, the chances of Netanyahu remaining in power as Israel's interim prime minister are high.

    Twitter as a Battlefield

    Twitter users were split, reacting to the news. Some took to the microblogging platform to vent their anger at Netanyahu's conduct.

    "1. [Initially he said] that nothing will happen [alluding to indictment] because nothing has happened [referring to him not giving bribes].

    2. Then he said that the Attorney General will not recommend to indict him.

    3. Then it was the indictment will not happen and that turned into

    4. I will prove my innocence at the court

    5. Then it was immunity? Me? Never

    6. And now it is.. give me immunity!"

    The man is such a zero. I am ashamed that he is my prime minister and that there is a million people in this country that think it is legitimate to vote for him.

    "Why do you need immunity if you haven't done anything wrong? He is talking nonsense because he is afraid".

    ​But there were also voices supportive of the premier. 

    "Have you also noticed that Netanyahu is asking for immunity because he feels they are building a case against him?"

    "If Netanyahu is innocent, there are chances that they built a case against him and if this is the case there is zero chance that the court will be impartial. That's why, and because Netanyahu believes he is innocent, he has to demand immunity for himself".

    ​According to Israeli news website Globes, 44 percent of Israelis said their trust in the country's judiciary has soured following the unjust conduct in Netanyahu's cases as well as several other verdicts.

    Two years earlier, a similar study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute revealed that only 30 percent of Israeli Jews and 18 percent of Arab Israelis believed the country's mass media. The same media that Netanyahu blames for plotting against him.

    Many have been taken in by Netanyahu's claims staging multiple rallies in support of the premier across Israel and promising to vote for Netanyahu despite the allegations against him.

    "...in two months' time we will be heading to the polls again. If the majority of people don't believe the country's law enforcement agencies, and will decide to grant Bibi their vote believing he is wrongfully persecuted, what's not democratic about it?..."

    "On the same day that Netanyahu asked for immunity in the name of two million voters who backed him against the decision to build a case against him, it is important to discuss one thing that's really important - Gantz is not fit to head the country. The Blue and White are dangerous for our economy, security, for our international image... that's what the elections are all about".

    ​But that's not the picture depicted in recent polls, according to which Blue and White is leading with 34 seats (out of the 120 seats in the Israeli Parliament), with Likud falling two seats behind.

    Yet, the majority of the Israeli public, some 40 percent, still believe Netanyahu is more suitable to be the country's PM, as opposed to Gantz, who only has 38 percent.

    Tags:
    corruption charges, investigation, Knesset, Blue and White Party, Likud party, diplomatic immunity, snap elections, Benny Gantz, Israel
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