Netanyahu urges supporters to attend rally demanding inquiry into spyware affair

Opposition leader says followers must insist on probe into alleged hacking that took place mainly when he was PM, if they ‘don’t want to sweep everything under the carpet’

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu call for his trial to be ended and an investigation opened at the District Court in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu call for his trial to be ended and an investigation opened at the District Court in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called on Tuesday for his supporters to attend a rally this week demanding a state investigation into allegations that police improperly spied on Israeli citizens.

“A protest in favor of a state commission of inquiry into the spying affair against Israeli citizens that is shaking Israeli democracy,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to social media, promoting the demonstration slated to be held in Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening.

“If you don’t want to sweep everything under the carpet, if you want to preserve the right to privacy, if you want to ensure the future of our country — show up,” Netanyahu said.

Most of the allegations of improper spying concern the period when Netanyahu was in power.

Reports have swirled over the past two weeks that the Israel Police used spyware without judicial approval to target many public officials and activists, including figures central to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

This week’s scheduled sessions in Netanyahu’s trial were postponed after state prosecutors said in an interim statement that a police check turned up no evidence that officers wiretapped phones without a warrant during their investigation of alleged misdeeds by Netanyahu. But they also asked for three more days to complete their check, which is expected to answer questions raised by the court and the defense.

Opposition and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Supporters of Netanyahu have used the accusations of spying to demand the trial be thrown out and that he be cleared of all charges.

Prosecutors have claimed that they never received any improperly obtained information and that the allegations should have no effect on the case.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Monday there had not yet been any evidence found to support unsourced reports by the Calcalist newspaper alleging that police used spyware to illicitly hack the phones of government officials, activists and journalists.

He noted, however, that he had not yet received the final findings from ongoing investigations into the allegations, as the state prosecution continues its probe into the matter. Sa’ar said last week that he believed members of the Likud party appeared to be “very worried” by the prospect of an investigation into the allegations.

An Illustration of a man holding his phone with NSO Group logo on a computer screen at the background, in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After Calcalist named 26 people it said were illicitly spied on by police, an internal police probe handed to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week claimed only three of them had been targeted, only one successfully, and all with judicial oversight.

On Sunday, former police commissioner Roni Alsheich denied that the police had access to NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus cyber-surveillance program as alleged by Calcalist — the first direct comment on the specific spyware program by a current or former police official.

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