Some 2,000 people protested near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home on Saturday evening, after the High Court of Justice ruled that the weekly protests calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be indicted in a pair of corruption investigations could resume.
The court ruling, which came after police blocked last week’s protest and arrested two of its leaders, limited the number of demonstrators to just 500, but police estimates and other reports put the figure at 2,000. Police blocked would-be demonstrators to try to limit the numbers, and hundreds demonstrated in nearby streets.
Likud coalition chairman David Bitan said the size of the demonstration constituted “a gross violation of the High Court ruling,” accusing the protesters of only being interested in the rule of law when it suits them.
“The tyrants of the left only elevate the law when it’s convenient, but it turns out that in order to carry out a coup, not through elections, trampling the law is kosher,” Bitan said. “I expect the police to act with a strong hand and to enforce the court’s instructions against an anarchist minority, ” he said.
At counter-demonstrations nearby, right wing protesters denounced the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators as “anti-Semites” and “hypocritical leftists,” Haaretz reported.
Police said some the 2,000-strong protest violated conditions set by the court, as did the use of loud speakers.
In response to police claims that the demonstrators had defied the court rulings, the organizers said they had complied with police restrictions, and that thousands who were turned away from the main demonstration had instead held protests nearby in full accordance with the court ruling.
Police said 500 protesters had already arrived to Goren Square near Mandelblit’s in Petah Tivka as the protest began at 8:00 p.m. and called on additional demonstrators to stay away from the site and “to respect the court decision.”
The protest came as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) acknowledged that the arrests last week of protest leaders Menny Naftali and Eldad Yaniv had been “a mistake.”
“I am not defending the police,” he told Channel 2, calling the arrest “an error of judgement” and also saying there had been no need to handcuff them.
Despite criticizing the arrest of Yaniv and Naftali, Erdan also had harsh words for the protesters and denied police were seeking to limit freedom of speech.
“Let’s just say the truth: those who harm the rule of law are Eldad Yaniv and his friends who exert improper pressure on the attorney general,” he said, referring to the protesters’ demands for Mandelblit to accelerate the corruption investigations involving Netanyahu.
Yaniv called on the public to come protest at a number of other locations in Petah Tikva, which he said were not subject to the limitations imposed by temporary injunction issued by the High Court Thursday.
“There are two hills nearby waiting for thousands of people to arrive,” he tweeted before the start of the protest. “Come on already.”
Also at the demonstration was Naftali, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence, who has been spearheading the 40 weeks of protest.
The High Court ruling earlier this week came in response to a petition to the court filed by protest organizers after police blocked demonstrators from reaching Mandelblit’s home last weekend and said any future protests would require police permits.
The demonstrations, which have taken place every Saturday evening since December 2016, have grown dramatically in recent weeks amid developments in the corruption cases involving Netanyahu. Two weeks ago, over 2,500 people took part.
Likud supporters have also staged a number of counter protests near Mandelblit’s home in recent weeks, albeit on a much smaller scale, and have accused demonstrators of seeking to oust Netanyahu through the courts.
Mandelblit — a former cabinet secretary to the prime minister — is overseeing two separate criminal investigations against Netanyahu, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000.
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 “Noni” 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.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.
The demonstrations were first kick-started by Naftali, who has in the past alleged he was verbally and physically abused by the prime minister’s wife during his employment. In February he was awarded NIS 170,000 (about $43,735) in damages after a labor court accepted his claims.
On Wednesday, Naftali denied reports that he may become a state’s witness in a separate police investigation into Sara Netanyahu for allegedly diverting public money for her private housekeeping expenses.
Raoul Wootliff and AP contributed to this report.