Hundreds of Netanyahu backers, opponents face off in rallies at Mandelblit home

Three people protesting against the PM arrested at weekly demonstrations outside attorney general’s residence in Petah Tikva

Illustrative: Protests near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva on August 17, 2019 (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Illustrative: Protests near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva on August 17, 2019 (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters demonstrated near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva Saturday evening, with supporters of the premier calling on him to drop criminal charges against the prime minister and critics urging his indictment.

Police said three left-wing protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct and assaulting officers. Protesters said a confrontation occurred when police tried to stop demonstrators from holding up a sign emblazoned with the words “Crime Minister.”

Left-wing anti-corruption protesters have held weekly demonstrations near Mandelblit’s home since 2017, calling for Netanyahu’s ousting over corruption allegations. Right-wing rallies in support of the premier began two weeks ago.

According to a Channel 12 report Friday, Mandelblit plans to decide on whether to indict Netanyahu in the three corruption cases against him by mid-November.

State prosecutors and Netanyahu’s lawyers on Monday wrapped up four days of pre-indictment hearings over the pending corruption charges against the prime minister.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. In Case 4000, he also faces a bribery charge.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Channels 12 and 13 both quoted unnamed sources saying some in Mandelblit’s team are inclined to drop the most serious charge, of bribery in Case 4000, though both reports stressed that the decision is ultimately Mandelblit’s. The attorney general published the draft charges at length in February.

The Channel 12 report said that Netanyahu’s lawyers had not managed to present anything new in Cases 1000 and 2000, but in Case 4000, the lawyers had presented an “alternate narrative,” which Mandelblit was considering. It did not give any further details.

Case 4000 concerns allegations that Netanyahu pushed regulatory decisions financially benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

In Case 1000 Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after being tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (not in frame) with forming a new government, on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Unsourced reports in Hebrew-language media said Mandelblit determined at the end of the hearings that there was no need for supplementary investigation into the various allegations in the light of the Netanyahu defense team’s presentations.

They said Netanyahu’s lawyers asked to submit further defense material in writing to complete their presentation, and that Mandelblit gave them until the end of the Sukkot holiday to do so.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed without providing evidence that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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