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Knesset nixes calls to launch state inquiry of Bar-On affair

JERUSALEM, May 1 (JTA) — The controversy over the Bar-On affair shifted to the Knesset this week, where a stormy debate took place over calls for the appointment of a state commission of inquiry into the matter. The Knesset, called back for a special session during its Passover recess, defeated motions on Wednesday by Labor and Meretz calling for a state inquiry. In another development, the High Court of Justice announced Thrusday that it will convene a five-justice panel May 14 to hear petitions prompted by the Bar-On affair. The petitions, filed by citizens groups and opposition Knesset members, call for the formation of a state commission of inquiry and demand that the prime minister and justice minister resign. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister David Magen of the Gesher Party announced that, at the request of Foreign Minister David Levy, he had suspended his plans to resign in protest over the Bar-On affair. Magen said he had agreed to wait two weeks before making a final decision on his resignation. Israel’s attorney general announced last week that there was insufficient evidence to act on police recommendations to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, despite grave improprieties in the short-lived January appointment of Roni Bar-On as attorney general. The only figure who will be indicted is Shas Knesset member Aryeh Deri, who allegedly pushed for Bar-On’s appointment in order to get a plea bargain in his corruption trial. Opposition members said this week that the police probe and attorney general’s report had only addressed the criminal aspects of the affair, and a state commission of inquiry was now needed to investigate its ethical and moral ramifications. Communications Minister Limor Livnat called opposition demands for a state commission another attempt to bring down the government, and a challenge to the judicial branch of the government. Netanyahu said the whole affair was an attempt by left-wing politicians and media to reverse the mandate given him by the electorate. He admitted to making mistakes, but said he was vindicated of any criminal act. Despite speculation that Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi might be replaced in the wake of the attorney general’s report, Netanyahu made clear this week that he had no plans to make any Cabinet changes. “I am not engaged in a Cabinet reshuffle,” Netanyahu said on CNN. “There is much more important work to be done.”