The Knesset House Committee yesterday approved the request for immunity by MK Haim Katz (Likud), following two days of discussion. The request still requires approval by the Knesset plenum, which will probably convene next week to debate and vote on the request. If approved, the immunity will be valid during the term of the current (22nd) Knesset.
The committee voted in favor of immunity for Katz on two of the three grounds that he requested. The vote on the first grounds was 16 to 10, with four abstentions. The Knesset committee voted in favor of granting Katz immunity against charges of fraud and breach of trust. Besides representatives of the rightwing and haredi (Jewish ultra-Orthodox) parties, MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu) and MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beitenu) also voted in favor of immunity. The 10 MKs who voted against were from the Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, Meretz, and Joint Arab List parties. The four abstaining MKs were Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas from the Joint Arab List and Zvi Hauser and Michael Biton from Blue and White.
The discussion lasted almost eight hours, during which MKs attacked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who they say is presenting an unreasonable requirement for being an. MK. Ayelet Shaked attacked his opinion on full disclosure in the case of a conflict of interest for MKs, saying that it should not be accepted. Katz, who was particularly wrought up, burst out against Mandelblit several time, and was removed from the hall. He said to Mandelblit, "What you are saying here, as if it were indisputable, is completely unfounded. You made up a story out of 1001 Arabian Nights. I'm hearing about things that never happened. You didn't do your homework; you didn't investigate, because it was of no interest to you. You're affecting my health."
The committee chairman asked Katz to refrain from interrupting. He answered, "You want me to shut up. I'm a human being, an honest person who never lied in my life. My word is my bond, and they're making me out to be a liar."
Katz, who was the last speaker in the discussion, presented one main argument - that even after several years, he would gain nothing from the bill initiated by his associate, and the bill that he promoted was for the public's welfare. Among other things, he said, "There is a material dispute between us, and I am wounded to the depths of my soul by what is alleged against me. I am convinced that you made a huge mistake in my case. But at the same time, I have great respect for you and the institution of the attorney general. I was professionally active in the capital market starting in 1968, until I was appointed a minister. For 47 years, I thought of myself as someone with a good understanding of this field, and that was long before I knew Moti Ben-Ari, although there are a lot of disagreements and no economic partnership between us."
Katz added, "I'm a person who says what he thinks. I can't remember ever lying, and now that I'm 72, I don't plan to start now. I've paid a price for all of this persecution. I don't know how much time I have left to live. My daughter-in-law couldn't stand the pressure, and had a miscarriage. My father had to pay 35% tax on his pension savings. We passed a law on it. But it helps the public - old people who go to the bank with a plastic bag. You know that it's a real career boost for an investigator to interrogate a minister, to be able to say, 'I framed a minister.' It's a real boost for his ego."
Katz was indicted last summer
Katz was indicted last summer for fraud and breach of trust in an affair investigated by the Israel Securities Authority. The indictment culminated in Katz's resignation as Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. The indictment states that Katz promoted a bill that could have benefited him and Ben-Ari, his friend, while at the same time he was active on the capital market with Ben-Air, and that his investment portfolio grew by millions of shekels during the period.
Presumption of innocence: Even after the decision to indict him, Katz has been convicted of no crime. He denies the charges filed against him by the State Attorney's Office, and is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 5, 2020
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