Netanyahu backers, critics hold rival rallies after indictment decision
Police separate sides with cordon; demonstrators outside Netanyahu residence in Jerusalem protest deal with Otzma Yehudit
Opponents and supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the streets Saturday evening for rival rallies two days after the country’s attorney general said he intended to file graft charges against the premier.
In central Tel Aviv, Netanyahu loyalists waved blue and white Israel flags and carried placards reading “Netanyahu, the people are with you” and “Netanyahu, my prime minister.”
Separated from them by a police cordon, opponents waved signs proclaiming “Crime Minister” and “Time for Netanyahu to Go.”.
Police declined to give an estimate of crowd size, but local media reported several hundred people participating.
In Habimah Square in Tel Aviv, activists hung a picture of Netanyahu on a statue in the area. Police forces prevented those activists from continuing the protest.
Under Israeli law the premier is not obliged to resign unless he is charged, convicted and loses all appeals, a lengthy process.
Netanyahu is running for a fifth term in an April general election.
He has shown no indication he will step down, and said after the attorney general’s Thursday announcement that he planned on being prime minister for a long time to come.
In Ramle, near Tel Aviv, opposition Labor activists projected onto a wall of the Maasiyahu prison a giant message reading “Netanyahu, Israel is ashamed”, a party statement said.
The facility is where former prime minister Ehud Olmert served time for corruption and ex-president Moshe Katsav was incarcerated for rape and other sexual offenses.
In Jerusalem, several hundred protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence over his role in engineering a deal to try and bring an extremist party into the Knesset to bolster his far-right allies.
Demonstrators held signs decrying the ideology of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane followed by leaders of the Otzma Yehudit party.
Police said they were forced to close streets close to the Prime Minister’s Residence for the protest.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published his decision on Thursday to indict the prime minister for fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and for bribery in one of them, pending a hearing.
Though the decision is not final, Mandelblit’s call to charge Netanyahu marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over his re-election campaign.
Netanyahu will have an opportunity to overturn the decision in a hearing expected to take place in the months following Election Day on April 9. The process could take up to a year.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims the investigations are part of efforts by the media and Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team, overseen by a “weak” attorney general.