Jerusalem (Jan. 13)
— The Knesset voted 63-33 tonight to lift the immunity of Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu-Hatzeira who has been indicted for alleged bribe-taking. There were five abstentions. Legal circles said he would go on trial within a few weeks.
The vote was conducted in a sombre atmosphere. It was the first time in Israel’s history that a Cabinet Minister was stripped of his immunity, although some rank-and -file MKs have been so treated in the past. The outcome was a foregone conclusion inasmuch as the Knesset’s House Committee recommended it yesterday by a 14-4 majority.
But surprise was expressed over the large number of negative votes cast, especially since Abu-Hatzeira himself had said he welcomed a trial because it would clear his name. Opposition to removing his immunity was seen as reflecting a lack of confidence in the government’s case which rests largely on the testimony of one man, former Mayor Yisrael Gottlieb of B’nai Brak.
Abu-Hatzeira, 42, a member of the National Religious Party, did not exercise his right to address the Knesset. He made an impassioned speech in his defense before the House Committee yesterday in which he charged that he was the victim of a political conspiracy to ruin his career and his reputation, partly because he is of Oriental origin.