Citing a protester who was photographed waving a cardboard guillotine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party condemned an anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, saying the demonstrators crossed “all of the red lines.”
Several thousand people turned out for the demonstration on the city’s Rothschild Boulevard, the fourth in as many Saturday nights. A reporter for the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper tweeted several photographs from the scene, including the one of the protester with the guillotine.
After the photograph circulated online, prompting comparisons to rowdy right-wing protests in the months before prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, the Likud party put out a statement denouncing the demonstration.
“The guillotine tonight on Rothschild is incitement to murder Prime Minister Netanyahu, alongside calls disparaging Zionism,” the statement said, also alluding to a small group of protesters photographed waving signs that read “BDS” in support of the boycott Israel movement.
“The left-wing protest on Rothschild has crossed all of the red lines,” it said.
Eldad Yaniv, one of the organizers of the protests, rejected the Likud party’s claims.
“There were tens of thousands of patriotic Israelis waving Israelis flags at the rally,” he told Hadashot TV news. “The latest diversion [by the prime minister’s residence] is to search for idiotic signs and, thank God, every Saturday night there’s a fresh idiot who arrives with an idiotic sign.”
Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay condemned the guillotine cutout as “incitement” and said those brandishing signs supporting an Israel boycott “do not even represent themselves.”
The “guillotine is incitement that must not be permitted and merely diverts the conversation away from the main issue: corruption,” said Gabbay in a Sunday morning statement.
Eyal Falkat, a lawyer linked with right-wing activists, said he would be filing a police complaint over the sign, which he claimed constitutes “incitement to murder.”
“I expect police to deal with the issue appropriately and investigate the person behind this dangerous symbol,” Falkat said in a statement.
A number of protesters, however, claimed that the sign was meant to represent a cigar cutter, mocking the fact that the prime minister is accused of receiving gifts of cigars worth thousands of dollars, and not a guillotine.
The protesters have sought to position themselves as being above party politics, insisting that the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone at their rallies is due to the fact that the prime minister is under investigation for suspected corruption. Bolstering that claim was a largely right-wing event Saturday night in Jerusalem that was also billed as anti-corruption.
The rally in the capital, organized by right-wing columnist Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu’s former communications director and current chair of the centrist Institute for Zionist Strategies think tank, drew several hundred people.
Hendel said he felt uncomfortable with the Tel Aviv protests due to their association with the left.
Among the public figures at the Jerusalem rally were former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon; Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva yeshiva and a prominent religious Zionist figure in Israel; and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria and Roy Folkman.
Hendel stressed that he was not against the government. “I’m not here against Netanyahu, I’m here for Israel,” he told the rally.
Ya’alon however, was more direct, warning that “corruption is a greater danger to Israel than Hezbollah or the Islamic State.”
Speaking to Hadashot news from the protest, Folkman said it was not a rally against the government, but only against corruption.
“I personally asked organizers that no one here speak against the prime minister,” he said.
Writing in his weekly column in Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, Hendel said that “the war on corruption must not be left to the left.”
He called on “fellow right-wing people, settlers, rabbis, pre-military academy students—and even government ministers and the prime minister himself,” to join the rally.
The Likud also slammed the Jerusalem rally.
“The right does not buy this bluff. Everyone understands that this is not a demonstration against corruption, but a satellite demonstration of the left,” a Likud statement said, adding that “the only aim is to bring down the Likud government.”
The latest round of protests was buttressed by a coalition push for legislation that would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indicting suspected public officials.
Police are planning on recommending that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, police officials told The Times of Israel.
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 newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in all instances.