After praise, Rivlin walks back support for anti-corruption protests
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After praise, Rivlin walks back support for anti-corruption protests

President says he never called on anyone to take part in demonstrations targeting government over graft allegations

Israel President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference on the subject of Educational Challenges for the Democracy in Israel, on December 26, 2017. (FLASH90)
Israel President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference on the subject of Educational Challenges for the Democracy in Israel, on December 26, 2017. (FLASH90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday said his reported support for a slew of anti-corruption demonstrations targeting the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was taken out of context.

On Tuesday, the president praised public protests against alleged government corruption that have taken place weekly, saying they were an important ourgrowth of online activism.

However, on Wednesday Rivlin said he regretted that his words had been misunderstood, and clarified that he never called on anyone to participate in the demonstrations.

“To remove any doubt, I will say as clearly as possible, I never called on anyone, nor would I consider calling on any Israeli citizens to join in this, or any other, protest,” he said in a statement. “It is inconceivable. I only regret that at this sensitive time my words were taken out of context in order to add fuel to the fire.”

Speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy on Tuesday, Rivlin had hailed social networks for mobilizing the masses, including 2011 mass demonstrations against the rising cost of living; gatherings in recent months protesting alleged stalling by law enforcement in corruption allegations against Netanyahu; and the more recent MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

“The [online] social networks are really great, a wonderful thing, they raise awareness and tell what is going on around us,” Rivlin said, according to a report by Channel 10.

A man with a cardboard guillotine attends an anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017 (screen capture: 0404.co.il)

“We have some wonderful examples of the influence of the social networks on reality: the protests of the summer 2011, demonstrations for and against [the social justice movement]; the demonstrations for and against in the recent months that went from the square in Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv and from there to other squares; [and the] MeToo campaign,” he said.

“Take note that all of the examples that moved from words to actions, went from the screen and took hold in the real world,” Rivlin added “There is no replacement for the real, physical city squares. We need to raise a generation that will remember that real democracy can perhaps begin on the web, but will never replace the need and the necessity of taking a real part in decisions, in debates, and in social action.”

Months of demonstrations by hundreds of protesters outside the Petah Tivah home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have swelled to demonstrations by thousands on four consecutive Saturday nights in Tel Aviv against government corruption. A right-wing protest against corruption in Jerusalem drew several hundred protesters on Saturday night.

At the most recent Tel Aviv event, held last Saturday night, one protester caused outrage by parading with a cardboard guillotine. That sign was condemned by Rivlin as “incitement.”

The latest anti-corruption protests were invigorated by a coalition push for legislation which would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment in investigations into public officials. As Rivlin spoke, the opposition was filibustering the final votes on the so-called police recommendations bill in the Knesset.

Hebrew media have reported that police are planning on recommending Netanyahu face charges in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has been questioned seven times since January in connection with the cases. He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

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