More than 1,000 people on Friday took part in weekly anti-corruption protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Media reports put attendance at some 1,000-2,000 participants. Activists called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, accused him of holding the country hostage to his criminal trial, and of prioritizing his fight with the justice system over the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes opened in May in a Jerusalem court. The accusations include accepting some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires, Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
Netanyahu is also accused of offering to push legislation benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications. Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and called the allegations baseless, saying accepting gifts from friends isn’t a problem.
Earlier this month the arrest of a former Air Force general during a protest against Netanyahu caused public outrage.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Haskel was arrested on June 26 while peacefully protesting outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, leading hundreds of people to join protests demanding his release, with many slamming the police for making what they viewed as politically motivated arrests.
A court ordered Haskel’s release without conditions two days later.
The country’s acting police chief later said the force would learn from the incident.
The second hearing in Netanyahu’s trial is set to take place on July 19.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, calling the charges a witch hunt against him by a hostile media and a biased law enforcement system.
The scandals, and Netanyahu’s indictment, featured prominently in three Israeli election campaigns over the course of a year. The political stalemate finally ended last month when Netanyahu reached a power-sharing agreement with his chief challenger, retired military chief Benny Gantz.