The Knesset House Committee will convene early next week to consider whether to lift the immunity of Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu-Hotzeira who has been indicted on three counts of bribe-taking. it has been urged to do so by Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir so that the 42-year-old Moroccan-born minister and Knesset member can be brought to trial.
But friends of Abu-Hatzeiro, mainly from the religious parties, have apparently succeeded in planting doubts in the minds of some committee members that Zamir has a valid case. When the indictment was announced a week ago, it had appeared that a majority of the committee was prepared to strip Abu-Hatzeira of his immunity.
Since then, Zamir and police officials have been accused by religious members of the committee of conducting a vendetta against Abu-Hatzeira. Yehuda Ben-Meir of the National Religious Party and Shlomo Gross of the Aguda charged that senior police detective Binyamin Siegel employed interrogation techniques that bordered on “psychological torture” of the accused.
The minister’s attorney, Shlomo-Tussia–Cohen, urged the committee not to deprive Abu-Hotzeira of his parliamentary immunity if they were inclined to believe that he would be acquitted in court. The lawyer argued that even though the trial would end with acquittal, it would constitute severe, punishment for Abu-Hatzeiro as a public figure and political personality.
It was apparent after the committee hearings yesterday that some members were impressed by these arguments. Uzi Baran of the Labor Party told reporters that he is deeply troubled by, the fact that the case against Abu-Hatzeiro rests almost exclusively on the testimony of Yisroel Gottlieb, himself a politician and Religious Ministry functionary who escaped indictment by agreeing to turn State’s evidence. Baram questioned whether the Attorney General had taken account of the propensity of some politicians to ruin the careers of others.
At the same time, he said, he was troubled by Abu-Hotzeira’s refusal to waive immunity and face trial. His full rehabilitation can be achieved only by acquittal, Baram said. Some observers believe Abu-Hotzeira will voluntarily waive immunity before the Knesset committee decides on the issue. They say he is satisfied that he has succeeded in weakening the case against him and thereby improved his standing in public opinion.
Israel television reported Tuesday that if the committee lifts his immunity. Abu-Hatzeira will take a leave of absence from the Cabinet for the duration of the legal process.
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