Thousands of Likud supporters gathered Wednesday in Tel Aviv to rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been beset by a series graft investigations and scandals surrounding him and his family.
As participants waited for the speakers to begin, Likud Knesset members, ministers and party activists chanted “Netanyahu is the king of Israel,” and “There will be nothing because there is nothing,” a phrase the prime minister has repeated in reference to the corruption allegations against him.
Netanyahu has escaped several scandals before, but the scope of the latest accusations appears to pose his stiffest challenge yet.
The anger of the crowd was directed against the left-wing and the media, which Netanyahu has repeatedly blamed for being behind a campaign to depose him.
Posters at the event carried a number of 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.
The rally was also attended by senior Likud ministers who turned out in support of Netanyahu.
“We are saying here that there is one king who has been crowned by the public. Anyone who want to get rid of him should go to the ballot box,” Communications Minister Ayoub Kara told the Times of Israel.
“You won’t get rid of him with bottles, or ice crime and definitely not champagne,” he said referring to some of the things the Netanyahus have been accused of receiving illicitly.
“I am not complaining about the legal authorities, I trust them, and support them. But there are those who are trying to pressure them and we wont allow it, Kara said.
That message was echoed by Likud lawmakers.
“As Bibi says, there will be nothing because there is nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said MK Yaron Mazuz, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
“We are protesting against anyone who is trying to destroy Bibi. The media, the state prosecution. There is an investigation now but it will end with nothing,” he said.
Nice welcoming sign at the Likud pro-Netanyahu rally pic.twitter.com/V0TzEYWBZp
— Raoul Wootliff (@RaoulWootliff) August 9, 2017
Organizers expected thousands to attend and Likud activists arranged bus transport to Tel Aviv from Tiberias, Ariel, Ashdod, Ashqelon, Yavneh, Netanyah, Rehovot, Haifa and Rishon Lezion.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Rivka, a Likud activist from Rishon Lezion, said that the event is “pro-Bibi and not anti-media,” but that news outlets must take responsibility for their role “in the terrible sins done against Netanyahu.”
“He is innocent, we all know it and you know it too,” she said, referring to the media. “You have hated him for years and now you are doing all you can to perpetuate the lies about him being corrupt. He is not.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel, controversial Likud MK Oren Hazan said that the rally is “to show support for Netanyahu and not to attack anyone specific, but we need to understand that there are serious problems with the state prosecution.”
At a meeting earlier in the day, Hazan accused prosecutors of seeking to use legal means in order topple the prime minister, saying that they were “full of shit.”
Party leaders described the rally as an attempt to counter a vicious campaign by a hostile media and overzealous police and state prosecution. But the gathering was also serving as a test of Netanyahu’s popularity and control over his party.
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,” reportedly concerns claims he improperly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
The second investigation, “Case 2000,” reportedly concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with publisher Arnon Mozes of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper group to promote legislation to weaken Yediot’s main competitor in exchange for more favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yediot.
His wife Sara Netanyahu is also facing indictment for misusing state funds at the prime minister’s residence.
Israeli police investigators say they suspect Netanyahu of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a pair of cases.
Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and longtime confidant, Ari Harow, last week signed a settlement connected to a separate case in which he agreed to testify against his former mentor. This has raised speculation that Netanyahu could be indicted soon, and has sparked opposition calls for him to step down.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations a witch hunt.
No one in the party has come out against Netanyahu yet — reflecting both loyalty and the fear of crossing him.
Internal criticism has emerged only from those outside of politics. Limor Livnat, a former Likud cabinet minister, has condemned the attacks on the police and prosecution and said that Netanyahu should step aside if indicted.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party has said Netanyahu would not have to step down even if he is indicted. That means his short-term future will likely depend on whether he can maintain political and public backing.
A third investigation, “Case 3000,” relates to a possible conflict of interests involving the purchase of German submarines, in which Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney represented the German firm involved in the deal.
Netanyahu has dismissed the suspicions as “background noise” and vowed to push forward.
A handful of counter-demonstrators gathered outside the event and changed “Bibi go home” using the prime ministers nickname.