Senior allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday continued to assail the legal establishment in Israel in the wake of the attorney general’s decision to indict the premier in three corruption cases, calling senior prosecutors criminals and the AG a spineless puppet.
Communications Minister David Amsalem reiterated Netanyahu’s claim that the decision to indict him was a “coup” attempt, singling out State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the cases. He also slammed Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
“Shai Nitzan needs to be tried because this is a coup,” Amsalem said in an interview on Channel 12 news. “In my opinion Liat Ben-Ari is a woman who needs to be sitting in prison.”
Amsalem was particularly dismissive of Mandelblit, who Netanyahu appointed as attorney general, saying that move had proven to be a mistake.
“Mandelblit does not have the spine to stand up to them,” Amsalem said, accusing the AG — who he described as one who goes around with the “countenance of a tortured martyr” — of “reading out whatever Shai Naitzan writes for him.”
“Mandelblit doesn’t have the mental fortitude to lead this process. All he is interested in doing is whatever Shai Nitzan tells him to do,” Amsalem said.
Amsalem also accused police investigators of behaving with the “norms of organized crime.”
Shortly after Mandelblit’s announcement on Thursday that he intended to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases on the charges of bribe, fraud and breach of trust, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking a “coup” against him.
Netanyahu claimed the process had been tainted by various improprieties and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him. He demanded to “investigate the investigators.”
After being pilloried by opponents and media figures who accused him of undermining the rule of law, Netanyahu issued a second statement on Friday in which he promised he would ultimately accept the court’s decisions, but continued to demand a probe into police and the prosecution.
Also Saturday, Justice Minister Amir Ohana attacked the state prosecution, for which he is responsible, saying it acted as it pleased, with no oversight.
“I think that my [legal] system is problematic, I have expressed this in recent weeks,” Ohana told Channel 12, adding that there was “selective law enforcement.”
“There are prosecutors breaking the law and nobody checks them,” he said. “I call on the state ombudsman to delve into this and check these accusations,” he said.
Both Amsalem and Ohana were appointed as ministers in recent months during the period of the interim governments largely due to their very public loyalty to Netanyahu.
Nitzan, Ben-Ari and Mandelblit have all reportedly been receiving additional police protection over the last year.
The only senior Likud figure to speak out to date against the assault on the legal system is Gideon Sa’ar, who has launched a leadership challenge against Netanayhu.
“This is not an attempted coup. That is not accurate,” said Sa’ar on Saturday. “It is not responsible to make this claim. It harms the Likud’s statesmanlike approach. It aims not for reform but to destroy the law enforcement hierarchies.”
“You cannot call a decision by the attorney general an attempted coup,” he insisted, adding that Mandelblit is “a man of integrity” and a Netanyahu appointee. “This is causing chaos in the country,” Sa’ar warned.
Sa’ar stressed that Netanyahu retains the presumption of innocence, and said he hoped the prime minister can clear his name.
An unnamed senior police officer also responded to the accusations, saying that “the prime minister is trying to disrupt the ability to fight public corruption in the country.
“His calls and those of Minister Ohana are likely to cause crucial harm to the gate keepers,” the officer told Channel 12, speaking on condition of anonymity.
There were widespread protests across Israel on Saturday, with demonstrators on both sides reiterating these themes.
Protesters supporting and opposing the premier converged in separate rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Several hundred supporters of Netanyahu chanted in support of the premier, with placards decrying the “criminal media” warning of a “black day for democracy” and demanding: “Stop the coup.”
Around a hundred rallied against the prime minister, demanding his resignation.
תייגו הפגנה נגד נתניהו והפגנה בעדו ואל תגלו מי זו מי pic.twitter.com/VPusLHkXNY
— Akiva Novick (@akivanovick) November 23, 2019
In Tel Aviv, around 2,500 activists congregated at Habima Square to call for the premier’s ouster. Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz called on Netanyahu to resign and for his Likud colleagues to stand up to him.
“I call on my political opponents, members of Likud, these are the days of the political decline of the outgoing prime minister. There is life after Netanyahu,” Horowitz said.
“Those who proceed with blind loyalty to him, will be remembered for giving a hand to the worst degradation of Israel’s democracy,” he said.
The Labor party also called on Netanyahu to resign, projecting slogans on to a bridge over a main highway in central Israel.
Meanwhile in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa, some 200 demonstrators backing Netanyahu rallied outside the regional magistrate’s court to demand justice for the Israeli leader. Some called for the prosecution of Nitzan and Ben-Ari.
مظاهر لنشطاء الليكود امام محكمة الصلح في كريات بياليك،دعما لرئيس الحكومة بنيامين نيتينياهو???? הפגנה של פעילי ליכוד מול בית משפט השלום בקרית ביאליק،תמיכה בראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו. pic.twitter.com/7vFVj51DnL
— |فرات نصار|פוראת נסאר|FURAT NASSAR (@nassar_furat) November 23, 2019
A group of demonstrators also gathered near Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, with one activist claiming it would be their final rally there following Mandelblit’s decision to press charges against Netanyahu.
הפגנה 156 אחרונה בהחלט בכיכר גורן בפתח תקווה. מנדלבליט הכריע. אנחנו עשינו את שלנו. חוגגים את נצחון שלטון החוק על השחיתות השלטונית. pic.twitter.com/IXgb4r2Whm
— Uri Breitman ???????????????????????? (@uribreitman) November 23, 2019
Every Saturday night for over a year, anti-corruption protesters demonstrated near the attorney general’s home demanding Netanyahu be indicted, and alleging that Mandelblit was stalling the probes. In recent months, these were met with counter-protesters backing Netanyahu and with police often serving as a buffer between the sides.
The prime minister has long claimed the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” instigated by the media, the left and law enforcement.