Some 2,000 people protested near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Saturday night, calling on him to bring indictments in a pair of corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While demonstrations near Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tivka have been held every Saturday for half-a-year amid accusations Mandelblit is dragging his feet in the cases, Saturday’s protest was significantly larger, coming after Netanyahu’s former chief of staff turned state’s witness on Friday.
A number of opposition lawmakers, among them MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), attended the protest Saturday evening.
“I will be at the demonstration in Petah Tikva tonight in order to send a message: The die is cast,” Hasson tweeted. “A prime minister under investigation needs to go home.”
Anti-Netanyahu demonstrations were also held in a number of other cities, among them Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba and Ashdod, the Haaretz daily reported.
Nearby the Petah Tikva protest, some 100 supporters of the prime minister’s Likud party held a counter-demonstration, which was organized by Coalition Chairman David Bitan as a show of support for Netanyahu.
“These demonstrations are anti-democratic and their role is to pressure the attorney general,” the Likud MK told the Walla news site. “What they are doing is against the rule of law. These protests are unnecessary.”
Also present alongside Bitan were Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and Likud MK Nava Boker.
“They want to get rid of [Netanyahu] because of cigars, ice cream and all sorts of small things. They can’t put the state into an unnecessary internal war,” Kara said, referring to allegations that Netanyahu received cigars from billionaire benefactors and the prime minister’s use of state funds for ice cream.
On Friday, Hebrew media reported that police will recommend filing indictments against Netanyahu in two cases — Case 1000 and Case 2000 — as the investigations appear to be strengthened by “significant material” provided by Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and aide, Ari Harow.
A police recommendation does not carry legal weight. It is for state prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.
According to a statement from the Israel Police Friday, Harow is expected to receive six months of community service and a NIS 700,000 fine ($193,000) on breach of trust charges in exchange for his testimony against his former boss.
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 publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, through Knesset legislation in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Harow is expected to provide information in both probes, having served as chief of staff during the time of the alleged deal with Mozes and while Netanyahu is said to have received gifts worth thousands of shekels.
On Saturday, Channel 2 reported that Harow has completed his testimony over recent weeks and has given police information on potentially incriminating actions he carried out for his former boss.
Channel 2 reported Friday that Harow was sent by Netanyahu to finalize the deal with Mozes, giving him — and police — first-hand knowledge of the suspected deal. Harow reportedly gave police details on the understandings reached between Netanyahu and Mozes, strengthening the police case beyond recordings discovered on Harow’s computer of their meetings in late 2014 and early 2015. This information comes from a separate police investigation into Harow’s affairs.
Harow is also expected to provide details on the method of gift-giving to the Netanyahus by Milchan and the prime minister’s awareness of it. Netanyahu is a primary suspect in the case; both he and his wife have consistently denied wrongdoing.
In a Friday evening video before the start of Shabbat, Netanyahu said the investigations against him were “background noise” and that he was focused on working on behalf of Israeli citizens. It came hours after the deal with Harow was announced.
Police on Thursday explicitly said for the first time that a number of corruption investigations involving Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” The police stopped short of saying that the Israeli leader was directly suspected of these crimes.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.