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

An Israeli man carries a sign citing conservative New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens as hundreds protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 02, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
An Israeli man carries a sign citing conservative New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens as hundreds protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 02, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

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.

Israelis wear national flags and hold placards during a march in support support their prime minister in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on March 2, 2019. – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long reign atop Israeli politics has earned him the nickname “King Bibi,” but a decision ahead of April elections to indict him on corruption charges may be his biggest challenge yet. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

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.

A caption reading “Netanyahu Israel is ashamed” projected on the walls of the Maasiyahu prison compound (Courtesy)

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.

Israelis protest against right-wing Otzma Yehudit outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on March 2, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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.

Israelis protest against goverment corruption and demand the resignation of Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to deliver a statement at the Knesset, December 9, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

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.

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