Opposition leaders on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he was acting like a ‘dictator’ and demanded elections as soon as possible, following a rally of support by Likud party activists in Tel Aviv.
The widespread and scathing criticisms of Netanyahu came after he told 3,000 supporters that the deepening graft investigations surrounding him and his family were a conspiracy by the media and the left designed to oust him and the right-wing from power.
Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay called on the prime minister to go to the polls to determine whether or not the voters agree with his message.
“The Likud Central Committee’s support for Netanyahu’s corruption doesn’t reflect the opinion of Likud voters who pay the price of corruption like everyone else,” he tweeted. “I call on him to test this with elections as soon as possible.”
Opposition head Isaac Herzog called the rally in Tel Aviv a “horror show,” saying it “expresses a moment of truth for the rule of law and democracy in Israel.”
“The attack by the prime minister of Israel was shameful, degrading and dangerous. From the right, the center and the left, we know that the time has come to replace him. The public is fed up with this feeling of a one-man rule and disgusted by the threat in the prime minister’s words to the free, enlightened and healthy democracy in Israel.”
Netanyahu has escaped several scandals before, but the scope of the latest graft accusations and scandals involving him and his family appear to pose his stiffest challenge yet.
In his speech the prime minister consistently denied any wrongdoing and blamed all his woes on the left and the media, saying it was the only way they could hope to remove him from government.
“We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an obsessive witch hunt against me and my family with the goal of achieving a coup against the government,” he said.
“The thought police in the media work full-time to set the agenda, and woe to anyone who veers away from it,” Netanyahu said, as the crowd chanted “down with the media.”
“Their goal is to put unremitting pressure on law enforcement agencies to file an indictment without any connection to the truth, regardless of justice,” Netanyahu warned.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called Netanyahu corrupt, and accused him of trying to undermine democracy with his speech
“There is no problem with Likud members supporting Netanyahu, but there is a huge problem with the orchestrated attack on law enforcement agencies,” she posted on Facebook. “Democracy is also the rule of law… It is impossible to say that we support democracy and in the same breath to destroy its components and to say that they are puppets of some demonic left.”
She said that the kind of leadership necessary now was one that distanced itself from the ugly rhetoric and which expresses trust in the law enforcement agencies to protect society from anarchy.
“Likud members are not corrupt, but Netanyahu is corrupting Israel,” she added. “I am sure that many, many Likud voters — honest people and good citizens — are feeling uncomfortable tonight.”
Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson said Netanyahu’s speech was like that of a dictator.
“Israeli citizens this evening saw a speech by a dictator,” he said. “Netanyahu launched a hunt against those who did not vote for him, and he will pursue them until he completes his ambition — a dictatorship in which Netanyahu’s flag replaces the flag of the State of Israel.”
Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid said that the pro-Netanyahu rally “crossed all lines.”
“What we saw this evening was not a show of support for Netanyahu, but a show of support for corruption,” he added.
In his speech Netanyahu repeatedly blamed the left-wing and the media for being behind a campaign to depose him.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon said that Netanyahu has only himself to blame for the ongoing investigations against him.
“Was it the media and the left that enticed Netanyahu to take [NIS] 20,000 a month for cigars and champagnes?” she asked.
Labor MK Nachman Shai said that it was time for the media to provide some balance.
“Israeli democracy is stronger than the Likud horror show,” he tweeted. “The media should give equal broadcast time to the center and left to balance the distorted picture that was presented this evening.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak — who was ridiculed by Netanyahu in his speech — joined the condemnation of the prime minister.
“The suspect from Balfour Street continues to be a crybaby,” he wrote on Twitter. “Likud members are proud and honest citizens, not puppets. There is no persecution, but there is corruption, there is no leadership, only panic.”
Netanyahu in his remarks had called Barak “an old man with a new beard” and his time as prime minister a “failure.”