Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated on Saturday night near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over his handling of the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The demonstrators, who have been holding weekly rallies for over two months, were also pushing back against a recent Supreme Court ruling barring protests outside the homes of public officials.
During the rally in Petah Tivka, protesters railed against what they alleged were delay tactics by the attorney general in the criminal investigations into Netanyahu and his wife. Chanting slogans such as “the attorney general of the royal couple,” they were accusing Mandelblit of protecting the premier from prosecution, according to Hebrew media reports.
Demonstrators also chanted “Menny Naftali is a national hero,” in reference to the former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence who has been leading the weekly protests calling on Mandelblit to take action against the Netanyahus. Naftali, who was awarded NIS 170,000 (about $43,735) in damages in February after a labor court accepted his claims of mistreatment by Sara Netanyahu during his employment, had his arm broken during a demonstration outside the attorney general’s home two weeks ago.
Despite a letter from the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Monday warning lawmakers against participating in demonstrations outside the homes of public figures, a number of opposition MKs attended Saturday’s protest, including Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev and Meretz MKs Zehava Galon, Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin.
The rallies come after the Supreme Court in April that although protests are an important and central component of any democratic society, the tactic should not be used to exert improper pressure on public servants by harassing them in their private residences.
“The right to protest is a fundamental right of all citizens in a democratic state and we will not allow anyone to limit [this right,]” Meretz MK Rozin said. “We are here this evening with the demonstrators that are requesting justice in our country. We will not allow the police to continue to sow fear through violence, arrests and fines.”
Rozin also said the measures taken against the protesters were part of a campaign by Netanyahu to “delegitimize” them.
“The attempts by Netanyahu to delegitimize and portray the protests as a putsch highlight his fear of a legitimate civil awakening,” she said.
In late March, the Justice Ministry decided to boost the security presence in front of the attorney general’s home, two months after Mandelblit announced that a criminal investigation involving Netanyahu had been launched.
Subsequently, graffiti on Mandelblit’s home was noticed by neighbors and passersby, reading “jail for the corrupt,” “collaborator” and “champagnes” – a reference to one of the Netanyahu investigations for allegedly accepting expensive gifts from US businessmen, with the word juxtaposed next to a dollar sign.
A permanent security guard has been posted outside of his home in addition to other unspecified security measures.
The attorney general — a former cabinet secretary to the prime minister — is overseeing two separate criminal investigations against Netanyahu, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000.
Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne said to have been given to the prime minister and his wife Sara by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Netanyahu and his wife are said to have denied that receiving the gifts constituted a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.
Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister is said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. No such deal was ever implemented. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.