Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a seething attack on the media Wednesday, accusing the press of playing up a pair of corruption investigations against him in an effort to end his premiership.
After devoting several minutes to extolling his own virtues as prime minister, boasting that “Israel is a rising world power thanks to its economic, military and diplomatic strength,” Netanyahu turned his focus to the media, in particular its coverage of weekly protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit’s home, during which activists have been calling for the prime minister to be indicted in the corruption cases against him.
“The fake news industry is at its peak, and the goal of the protests is to indict me at any cost,” he told the crowd of rowdy Likud supporters at a rally near Ben Gurion Airport. Estimates put the crowd at 2,000-3,000.
“They cover enthusiastically [and] without end the left-wing protests every week,” he said. “The same protests whose goal is to apply improper pressure in order that an indictment will be filed at any cost.
“‘Netanyahu is guilty until proven innocent,'” he accused the protesters of saying.
The prime minister also said the protests showed the demonstrators’ contempt for democracy.
“They don’t only despise us,” he said. “They despise something much deeper: They despise the choice of the people and they despise the democracy in whose name they protest.
“They are doing everything possible to harm me and my wife because they think that if they topple me and her they will topple us, the Likud, the national camp — and to this end, all means are kosher.”
“Who finances and who organizes the left-wing demonstrations [near Mandelblit’s home] in Petah Tikva? The [media] is turning the protest leaders into ‘knights of the rule of law.’ What knights? What law?” he said, before laying into two of the leaders of the protests, aspiring politician Eldad Yaniv and Menny Naftali.
Netanyahu accused Naftali — a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who in February was awarded NIS 170,000 (about $43,735) in damages for verbal and physical abuse he suffered at the hands of the prime minister’s wife, Sara — of ordering food and cleaning supplies for his own use while he worked at the Prime Minister’s Residence. Sara herself has been accused of similar misuse of state funds.
He also noted that Yaniv had admitted to engaging in corrupt actions while serving as an aide to prime minister Ehud Barak. Yaniv has sought to come clean about his past and position himself as a proponent of upstanding government.
Netanyahu’s remarks Wednesday echoed his attack on the media earlier this month at a Likud rally, in a speech in which he accused the left and the media of using the broadening corruption investigations against him and his wife to try to oust him from power, in what he termed “a coup” against the government.
Netanyahu is being investigated in a pair of corruption cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. Since police indicated several months ago that they are leaning toward recommending an indictment, he has been lashing out at the media with increasing frequency and ferocity.
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.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.
Despite Netanyahu’s criticism of the protests, they have grown in size in recent weeks amid developments in the corruption cases, and Mandelblit, the attorney general, said Tuesday they are entirely legitimate and protected by freedom of expression.
A number of opposition figures criticized Netanyahu after his speech Wednesday.
“It begins with letter P: panic, paranoia and psychosis,” tweeted Barak, who has recently become one of the prime minister’s fiercest critics. “The ground is trembling and the prime minister is spinning… Pathetic and sad.”
Labor Party head Avi Gabbay castigated Netanyahu for devoting the majority of his speech to the media while neglecting to mention domestic issues.
“Not the plight of the disabled, not the opening of the school year, not the housing crisis and not the problem of traffic jams. Media, media, media,” Gabbay tweeted.
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.