In a battling speech to some 3,000 supporters who gathered in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the left and the media of using ever-widening corruption investigations against him and his family to try to oust him from power in what he called “a coup against the government.”
“They don’t want to just take me down, they want to take us all down,” he told the Likud party crowd. “They know that they can’t beat us at the ballot boxes, so they are trying to circumvent democracy and topple us in other ways.”
“But we keep winning in the ballots because we’ve brought Israel to the best place it has ever been in Israel’s history,” he said.
Netanyahu used the speech, carefully timed so that it was carried live on primetime TV news, to argue that preserving him and the “national camp” in power was crucial to Israel’s well-being. He said that when Likud PM Yitzhak Shamir was ousted in 1992, what followed were the “disastrous” Oslo accords and a wave of terrorism, and that when he himself lost power in 1999, the second intifada followed. In both cases, he claimed, the media had ousted a right-wing leadership by using false accusations.
He also asserted that the ostensibly illicit effort to oust him was designed to achieve an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but vowed that this would not happen. He and his supporters would “proudly carry the flag of Israel… for many more years,” he promised, and vowed that the Likud would grow from 30 to 40 seats in the next elections “with God’s help.”
“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.
Netanyahu clearly reveled in the adulation he got from the crowd, telling them: “Thank you for your support for me and my beloved wife Sara who has been with me all along. I love you all.”
Netanyahu’s focus on the alleged illicit bid to oust him was expected, as it had been the main theme highlighted by the event’s organizers and among the participants before he arrived to speak. He stayed away from criticizing the police and justice system.
Likud party leaders had earlier described the rally as an attempt to counter a vicious campaign by a hostile media and overzealous police and state prosecution. But the gathering also served as a test of Netanyahu’s popularity and control over his party, and most top Likud lawmakers were present. The overwhelming warmth and enthusiasm with which he was received by the crowd, said by analysts to include a substantial proportion of Likud Central Committee members, thus also sent a message to his potential Likud rivals, underlining Netanyahu’s popularity among those who select the party leadership.
Coalition chairman David Bitan, one of Netanyahu’s strongest backers, said he organized the rally because the prime minister is being “persecuted” by the media and an opposition unable to defeat him at the ballot box.
The anger of the crowd was widely directed against the left-wing and the media. Posters at the event carried slogans, including: “The people choose and the left undermines,” and “Enough with the attempted putsch.”
At the entrance of the event, one activist held a sign reading “Fake news is fucking news” and several journalists were verbally abused by participants.
Netanyahu, the second-longest serving leader in Israeli history, is engulfed in a series of scandals relating to alleged financial misdeeds and supposed illicit ties to executives in media, international business and Hollywood.
One investigation involving Netanyahu, dubbed by police as “Case 1000,” concerns claims he and his wife improperly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
The second investigation, “Case 2000,” concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with publisher Arnon Mozes of the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper group to promote legislation to weaken Yediot’s main competitor in exchange for more favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yediot.
A key former aide, Avi Harow, has turned state’s witness and reportedly given evidence relating to some of the investigations.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
His wife Sara is also facing indictment for misusing state funds at the prime minister’s residence. Netanyahu frequently reference her in the speech, calling the case against her “an embarrassment.”
“They focus on a cup of tea given to her sainted father who was 96,” Netanyahu said, a reference to the charges that she used public funds to pay for a caretaker for her father, the late Shmuel Ben-Artzi.
The crowd responded by chanting “Sara, Sara, Sara.”
Netanyahu said derisively that there were “rumors” the family dog would be called in next “for questioning under caution.”
Netanyahu also attacked former prime minister Ehud Barak, calling him a “failure” and mocking him for predicting Israel’s imminent international isolation.
“We are stronger than we have ever been and the list of world leaders who have invited me is huge,” Netanyahu said in a ridiculing tone.
Netanyahu also accused the media of trying to influence Israeli policy toward a withdrawal from the West Bank.
“The fake news is warning us that if we don’t withdraw from our historical homeland we will be weak and defeated,” he said.
“This is not the first time that the media has brought these fake accusations against the right. They brought down Shamir in 1992 and brought us Oslo and bus bombings and dead people in restaurants,” he added.
In 1999, when he himself was ousted when Barak promised a new dawn, that “dawn” brought the second intifada and more than 1,000 Israeli deaths, he said.
“Yesterday there was an article [in Haaretz] and I quote: ‘The Palestinians hope the investigations will bring down the Prime Minister.’ It’s no surprise that the media and the Palestinians want to bring me down — they both want us to pull out to the 1967 lines,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also said that Haaretz had offered to ease up on him if he withdrew from the West Bank. “Well, we won’t,” he said.