Israel PM Netanyahu Asked to Prove Majority in Knesset

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GPO / Kobi Gideon (file photo)
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GPO / Kobi Gideon (file photo)

If Netanyahu is convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for bribery and a maximum of three years for fraud and breach of trust. 

By Rakesh Raman

Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu – who is facing serious corruption charges – experienced a setback on Monday (April 19) when he lost an important vote to control the legislative agenda in parliament. The vote was conducted to establish the Arrangements Committee, which, in the absence of a new government, handles the legislative work.

While Netanyahu, 71, is trying to form a new government following an inconclusive election, defeat in the Arrangements Committee’s election indicates that it will be difficult for him to secure a majority in the 120-seat Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament).

Netanyahu was given 2 weeks to bring together a ruling coalition after a motion floated by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud was rejected in a close vote. President Reuven Rivlin on April 6 had asked Netanyahu to form the government in 28 days. 

If he fails to prove a majority, Netanyahu can ask Rivlin for an extension of 2 weeks. Depending on the outcome, the president can explore other options such as calling  another candidate to prove the majority or directing the parliament to nominate the candidate.

Although massive protests have been happening against Netanyahu as Israelis are asking him to resign for his failure to contain coronavirus and amid charges of corruption against him, he has refused to step down. Netanyahu is facing bribery and fraud charges in three different cases and was formally indicted in November 2019.

If Netanyahu is convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for bribery and a maximum of three years for fraud and breach of trust. He is the first sitting PM in Israel’s history to be charged with a crime. In 2019, he was asked to resign from his agriculture, health, social affairs, and diaspora affairs portfolios. 

However, the matter of forcing a prime minister to resign due to an indictment has not yet been tested in court. He was officially charged on 28 January 2020. Netanyahu’s criminal trial which was delayed because of Covid-19 pandemic has begun.

Netanyahu’s trial is being hailed as a major victory for Israel’s judicial system which has proved that no one is above the law. This step should serve as a lesson for courts in other countries such as India where courts are apparently complicit in the crimes of corrupt politicians and do not take actions against them. 

The PM of India Narendra Modi, for example, has been facing a number of corruption allegations in cases such as Rafale deal with French defence group Dassault Aviation, PM-CARES Fund, and others in which it is alleged that corruption worth billions of dollars took place. But the Supreme Court of India dismissed the cases without holding proper investigations.

Similarly, other leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are being accused of rampant corruption. But the Indian courts and anti-corruption organizations such as the Lokpal have turned a blind eye to such corruption cases.

In a recent case, for example, Modi’s colleague and India’s Minister of Transport Nitin Gadkari has been named in a report that reveals the minister is involved in a quid pro quo deal with a Swedish automobile company Scania, which is part of Volkswagen AG’s commercial vehicle arm Traton SE. 

The Caravan news magazine has done a detailed analysis of this case, saying that Gadkari’s denial of connection to Scania bus was an outright lie. But no legal investigation has been carried out against the minister.

A new report released by the U.S. Department of State has revealed that rampant corruption is happening at all levels of government in India. The report released on March 30 says that the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. But most government officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the past year, the report says.

Now after Netanyahu’s trial, it is expected that the Indian courts will muster courage to start investigations and prosecution in the cases of alleged corruption against PM Modi and others in his government. Ideally, Modi should have resigned from his position after numerous allegations of corruption. But he is not quitting and rather encouraging more corruption.

The first witness in Netanyahu’s corruption trial concluded his testimony on April 20 and the court has paused the proceedings for 2 weeks to let the defense prepare to cross-examine him. The next hearing is scheduled to take place on May 3.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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