Hundreds of left-wing protesters marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday after newly revealed details of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negotiations on an alleged deal to secure favorable coverage from Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, prompted a surge in criticism.
Netanyahu is being investigated for two separate corruption cases and as details emerge the probe has also fueled speculation that, should he be indicted, his governing coalition could collapse, boosting the prospects of new elections.
Opposition lawmakers at the weekend escalated their criticism of Netanyahu, while several hundred people marched through Tel Aviv to protest his alleged corruption. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
Protesters walked through the rain Saturday night, waving Israeli flags and calling on the government to resign. “You take from the poor to give to the rich, a government of the corrupt,” they chanted.
Several Zionist Union and Meretz lawmakers took part in the protest. Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of the march, took to social media to declare Netanyahu “the first mafia prime minister of Israel.”
“Netanyahu is grasping to stay in power out of a desire for power and the luxuries that it brings, and not out of a desire to do good for the country,” Shaffir wrote in a Facebook post.
Later, speaking on Israel Radio, she called for the attorney general to release the tapes of Netanyahu’s alleged negotiations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes on a reported deal under which he would have curbed the influence of Yedioth’s rival newspaper, Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. “We deserve to hear the full recordings, so we know how the prime minister runs the country.”
At a Saturday cultural event in Rishon Lezion, Yesh Atid MK Yael German took Netanyahu to task over the second case under investigation, which involves allegations the prime minister and his wife accepted lucrative gifts from a number of businessmen, most notably Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan.
She rejected Netanyahu’s explanation to police that the pricey cigars and champagne from Milchan were inconsequential because the two families were “best friends.”
“The prime minister and communications minister can’t accept tens of thousands of shekels from a Channel 10 shareholder, and then just roll his eyes and say ‘it was from a friend,'” German said. “I have friends too, and some of them are rich, but they aren’t gifting me with a constant supply of champagne.”
She also lamented the implications for a free press in Israel if the allegations in the Yedioth case prove true.
“A newspaper that’s willing to sell its integrity and skew coverage in favor of the prime minister is simply unbelievable,” she said. “If the allegations prove to be true, it will be a [black day] for journalism.”
Amid speculation about fresh elections should Netanyahu be indicted, German said her Yesh Atid party’s recent surge in polls was an indication that the centrist party was “increasingly shaping up to be an alternative” to head a governing coalition.
The first case involves the alleged negotiations with Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom daily if Mozes’s paper Yedioth gave him more favorable coverage.
In the second case for which the prime minister is being investigated, police are checking whether Netanyahu and his wife Sara received some 400,000-600,000 shekels ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from producer Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
The premier is also being investigated for gifts allegedly received from other businessmen.
Also Saturday, Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel denied he was in any way involved in the deal between Netanyahu and Mozes.
Cabel was the first to propose a law that would limit free newspapers like Israel Hayom. “I have no part in this stinking story, I have nothing to do with Netanyahu,” Cabel told Channel 2, adding that when he first proposed the bill he had not even met Mozes.
Cabel was questioned by police and said they had wanted to know if either Netanyahu or Mozes had approached him to propose the legislation.
Earlier on Saturday, fellow Yesh Atid lawmaker Meir Cohen branded the Yedioth case “one of the most dire affairs Israel has seen.”
As a former history teacher, Cohen said that “when we talk about tyranny and the winds of fascism, these begin with a takeover of the media.”
“If the prime minister is trading in the free media, that is the beginning of a dictatorship,” he said.
Meanwhile, former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, who recently joined the Labor Party after resigning from the government and the Kulanu party, said Saturday he believes Netanyahu has “come to the end of the road” in government.
Gabbay said the new police investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs, and particularly the Yedioth Ahronoth deal, are “the most severe” cases the premier has been involved in.
“He held negotiations with Mozes over our public perception; our perception was bartered for cash,” Gabbay told an audience at a cultural event in Beersheba.
At a separate cultural event Saturday, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai similarly predicted the investigations into Netanyahu would mark the end of his government.
“The various scandals the prime minister is involved in will not allow him to serve out his full term,” Shai said.
Police are inclined to recommend indicting Netanyahu in both cases, Channel 10 news reported Friday night. It quoted a senior police source adding, however, that the investigations were still ongoing. Mozes is to be questioned again early next week, it said, and Netanyahu is then likely to be questioned a third time.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has insisted Netanyahu has done nothing illegal.