The ruling Likud party on Saturday night dismissed as a “joke” a rally in Tel Aviv that saw tens of thousands of Israelis protest against looming legislative efforts by the incoming coalition to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and radically limit the Supreme Court’s powers.
The rally featured speeches by the leaders of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid; as well as the chairman of the Israeli Arab Hadash-Ta’al party, Ayman Odeh, among others. It was also attended by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who served a prison term for corruption.
In a brief statement after the rally, the Likud struck a derisive tone.
“This evening at the left-wing rally in Tel Aviv: The terror supporter Ayman Odeh delivers a speech with the blessing of Lapid and Gantz, and the ex-convict Ehud Olmert demonstrates ‘against corruption,'” the statement said. “What a joke!”
The event was primarily organized by the largest opposition party — Blue and White — alongside Meretz and the Labor party. Both Arab-Israeli parties — Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad — announced Saturday afternoon that they, too, would participate amid an outcry over Blue and White’s alleged failure to include non-Jews among the speakers.
The mass protest came amid reported plans by Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu to guarantee the premier immunity in multiple corruption cases, and pass legislation weakening the High Court of Justice so that it won’t have the power to strike down efforts to protect him.
The opposition was hoping to create public pressure on MKs from Likud and other prospective coalition parties who they believe are uneasy with the prospect of supporting such legislation.
During his speech, Gantz, the presumptive opposition leader in the next government, accused Netanyahu of deceiving his voters and putting his own interests ahead of those of the country.
“Benjamin Netanyahu,” Gantz called out, addressing the premier directly, “during the election campaign, you spoke of the security of the State of Israel; today, you are mainly focused on your own security and your own personal freedoms. You deceived your voters.”
Gantz said he and his party would not let Israel become “the private estate of a royal family or sultanate.”
Lapid also gave a fiery speech, saying the opposition would not allow Netanyahu to behave like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled over that country in one position or another since 2003.
Odeh said in his speech that efforts to safeguard Israeli democracy amid initiatives to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution will only be possible when Jewish and Arab citizens work together.
Addressing the rally outside the Tel Aviv Museum, Odeh said, “I am here today because I believe that Jewish-Arab partnership is the only way to [achieve] hope and change.”
Odeh was the last party leader to speak at the rally, following Gantz, Labor head Avi Gabbay and Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg.