Throughout the last two years of police investigations against Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister has intermittently called his devotees to his side at Likud party rallies aimed at showing off the widespread support he enjoys and deriding his accusers and their claims.
On Tuesday evening, following the announcement of indictments against Netanyahu last week, he will take that model to new heights, and some fear lows as well, with a mass rally in the center of Tel Aviv expected to include fierce criticism of the justice system and calls to investigate the prime minister’s prosecutors.
Organizers say they are expecting at least 10,000 people to participate — most of whom are being bused to the nation’s liberal heartland from around the country.
The rally will begin at 8 p.m. outside the Tel Aviv Museum. As of late Tuesday morning, Netanyahu had not made clear whether he would address the rally. Channel 13 news said he had not yet decided.
Last Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, announced he would charge the prime minister with breach of trust and fraud in three cases, and bribery in one of them. The announcement marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces a criminal indictment.
Netanyahu slammed the charges, vowed to stay on and fight what he called “tainted” and prejudiced investigations, and accused police investigators and prosecutors of plotting an “attempted coup” to bring him down.
Tuesday’s rally, officially organized by a handful of right-wing organizations but promoted heavily by the Likud party and Netanyahu himself, appears to be echoing the premier’s message, with posters for the event calling on the public to come and “stop the coup.”
“There are places where there is a military coup and the military removes elected officials, and there is also a legal coup that takes place over the table in front of our eyes,” Simcha Rothman, a leader of the Movement for Governance and Democracy, one of the groups sponsoring the event, told Channel 12.
The rally follows several smaller protests since Thursday, held in Jerusalem and elsewhere, both in support of Netanyahu and calling for him to step down.
Rothman rejected the concern that the scheduled speakers at the rally, mainly representatives of the various groups involved, would incite violence against the law enforcement community. “This is not about incitement. We have a legitimate critique of fabricating legal cases,” he said.
Speaking at the opening of his Blue and White party faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, Benny Gantz urged that every effort be made to prevent violence at the rally.
“Tomorrow there will be a demonstration in support of Netanyahu, and it appears that he will attend. I emphasize that in a democracy, the freedom of demonstration and the freedom of expression are fundamental principles, as is the right of each person to express his or her opinion,” Gantz said. “However, I call upon you, the demonstrators, those supporting Netanyahu and those against, to respect our law enforcement institutions, to have regard for our state and, of course, to avoid violence of any kind.”
Speaking after Gantz, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of inciting violence in his efforts to denounce the indictments.
“Avichai Mandelblit has personal security. The state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, has personal security. Taxation and economic crimes prosecutor Liat Ben Ari has personal security. They are facing death threats. There’s no question what the reason is. It’s clear. Netanyahu is inciting against them. They need security because otherwise his people will hurt them. That’s what we’ve come to,” Lapid said.
‘Doesn’t sit well’
Some in Likud have also expressed misgivings about the rally, with at least two ministers from the party announcing Tuesday that they would not attend.
Both Culture Minister Miri Regev and Science Minister Ofir Akunis said they had prior engagements.
A Likud source speaking on condition of anonymity told The Times of Israel that the party was considering asking lawmakers not to attend in order to avoid the possibility of too many no-shows.
According to the Ynet news site, even some of those who will attend are uncomfortable about taking a public stand against justice officials and being seen rallying against law and order.
“What’s the headline for this rally?” one senior Likud official told the news. “We’re being asked to come to a protest that will include criticism we disagree with against the prosecution and the attorney general. They’re talking about a ‘coup.’ That doesn’t sit well with everyone.”
Another Likud official was more direct. “I can criticize the prosecution, but it’s a very big leap from that to accusing Mandelblit of framing [Netanyahu] or claiming there’s a coup going on,” he said.
Lawmakers also complained that Netanyahu aides were demanding they participate and take public stands against the state prosecution.
A number of Likud leaders, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, have been conspicuously silent since Thursday’s announcement of charges.
“The fact that they’re demanding we attend, and that our refusal will be seen as disloyalty, is twisted,” one official said.