With chants and placards, rallies for and against PM staged in major cities

Demonstrations by both sides take place outside PM’s Jerusalem residence; other rallies in Tel Aviv and the Haifa area

File: Israelis protest against goverment corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
File: Israelis protest against goverment corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israelis supporting and protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Haifa area Saturday in response to the attorney general’s decision Thursday to indict the premier in three corruption cases.

Demonstrators on both sides converged in opposing rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. \Several hundred supporters of Netanyahu chanted in support of the premier, with placards decrying the “criminal media” warning of a “black day for democracy” and demanding: “Stop the coup.”

Around a hundred rallied against the prime minister, demanding his resignation.

In Tel Aviv, around 2,500 activists congregated at Habima Square to call for the premier’s ouster. Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz called on Netanyahu to resign and for his Likud colleagues to stand up to him.

“I call on my political opponents, members of Likud, these are the days of the political decline of the outgoing prime minister. There is life after Netanyahu,” Horowitz said.

“Those who proceed with blind loyalty to him, will be remembered for giving a hand to the worst degradation of Israel’s democracy,” he said.

The Labor party also called on Netanyahu to resign, projecting slogans on to a bridge over a main highway in central Israel.

Meanwhile in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa, some 200 demonstrators backing Netanyahu rallied outside the regional magistrate’s court to demand justice for the Israeli leader. Some called for the prosecution of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the lead prosecutor in the case, Liat Ben-Ari.

A group of demonstrators also gathered near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, with one activist claiming it would be their final rally there following Mandelblit’s decision to press charges against Netanyahu.

Every Saturday night for over a year, anti-corruption protesters demonstrated near the attorney general’s home demanding Netanyahu be indicted, and alleging that Mandelblit was stalling the probes. In recent months, these were met with counter-protesters backing Netanyahu and with police often serving as a buffer between the sides.

Demonstrators back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his corruption hearings near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, on October 5, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shortly after Mandelblit’s announcement on Thursday that he intended to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases on the charges of bribe, fraud and breach of trust, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking a “coup” against him.

Netanyahu claimed the process had been tainted by various improprieties and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him. He demanded to “investigate the investigators.”

After being pilloried by opponents and media figures who accused him of undermining the rule of law, Netanyahu issued a second statement on Friday in which he promised he would ultimately accept the court’s decisions, but continued to demand a probe into police and the prosecution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to the decision to indict him in corruption cases, November 21, 2019 (TV screenshot)

The prime minister has long claimed the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” instigated by the media, the left and law enforcement.

A poll aired on Channel 13 on Friday showed 56 percent of the public think Netanyahu should resign following the indictment announcement.

Just 35% of respondents said the Likud leader should remain in power, while 9% were unsure.

After September’s elections, and failed efforts by Netanyahu and rival Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to muster a majority, the Knesset has three weeks to find a prime ministerial candidate who enjoys the support of 61 MKs. With kingmaker Yisrael Beytenu saying it will not support a narrow government of any kind, and the indictment announcement seemingly killing off any chance of Blue and White agreeing to share power with Netanyahu, a new national poll — the third in less than a year — appears all but inevitable.

There has been intense media speculation in recent days that following the court’s decision, Mandelblit may soon further rule that although the prime minister is not compelled to give up his position due to the indictment, he cannot again receive a mandate to form a new government under the circumstances.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement Friday that Mandelblit “has not yet dealt with the various consequences of the decision to file an indictment, and has certainly reached no decision in the matter.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit holds a press conference at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, announcing his decision that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different corruption cases, dubbed by police Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Though Netanyahu received statements of support from many on the political right following the indictment announcement, several high-profile Likud officials have been conspicuously silent, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and former Jerusalem mayor MK Nir Barkat. Gideon Sa’ar, who announced a bid to challenge to Netanyahu earlier this week, has also not commented.

According to a Channel 12 TV report on Friday, several senior Likud lawmakers have been meeting behind the scenes in a bid to try and oust Netanyahu following the Mandelblit’s announcement.

The unsourced report said senior Likud officials were convinced “the Netanyahu era is over” and were working to try dethrone him as head of the party within the current 21-day period allotted for the Knesset to agree on a prime minister.

Channel 13 reported similar backroom talks, with one unnamed person saying: “We are trying to figure out how to wrest the party from his hands.”

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