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Israel's Netanyahu Asks Parliament For Immunity From Corruption Charges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference Wednesday in Jerusalem regarding his intention to file a request to the Knesset for immunity from prosecution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that he will seek immunity from prosecution in corruption charges he's facing.

"I will come to court and quash all the ridiculous libels against me," Netanyahu said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "The immunity law is intended to protect elected officials from manufactured cases, and guarantee that those elected by the people can serve the people according to their will and not the will of the legal officials."

Netanyahu made the announcement in a televised speech. In the past, he signaled that he would not need to seek immunity from the Knesset, saying the charges against him — made official last month — were politically motivated and wouldn't hold up.

Netanyahu is accused of offering favors to media moguls and of getting expensive gifts and positive press in return, NPR's Daniel Estrin and Merrit Kennedy have reported.

The most serious case involves allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In what has become known as Case 4000, the prime minister allegedly promoted regulation that benefited a telecom company called the Bezeq Group, in exchange for favorable press coverage on a news site run by a subsidiary.

Netanyahu's five years of sway over that site, Walla! News, went as far as weighing in on the hiring of editors and reporters. In another case, the prime minister is accused of receiving more than $200,000 in illegal gifts, including jewelry, cigars and champagne from a Hollywood producer and an Australian billionaire, NPR reported.

Any vote on Netanyahu's request would not come until after elections scheduled for March 2. It could also slow down the court proceedings, which already are expected to take months or more before any trial is held.

The announcement makes immunity a major issue in the upcoming election. Most Israelis oppose such immunity, polls have shown.

Netanyahu's centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, said the prime minister is putting himself above the law, Estrin reports, and called on Netanyahu's supporters to abandon him.

The prime minister won his party's primary in late December, but Israeli political analyst Gayil Talshir told All Things Considered's Ari Shapiro that the results looked bad for Netanyahu.

"Even if Netanyahu does get the majority in the March elections, what we saw yesterday in the primaries is deep, deep disdain with Netanyahu, even on the right," Talshir said. "Netanyahu made his choice, and he is for a Jewish state, even if it is on the expense of being a democracy. And I think the majority of Israelis cannot actually accept that."

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