A right-wing rally in Jerusalem protesting corruption drew just a few hundred people on Saturday, dampening organizers’ expectations that it could provide an alternative to the huge left-wing demonstrations in Tel Aviv in recent weeks.
The Jerusalem rally was supposed to provide an outlet for right-wing Israelis upset with government corruption and expressing support for law enforcement authorities investigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of ongoing graft probes.
It was organized by right-wing columnist Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu’s former communications director and current chair of the centrist Institute for Zionist Strategies think-tank.
Hendel said he felt uncomfortable with the Tel Aviv protests that identified with Israel’s political left.
Among the public figures at the rally were former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon; Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva yeshiva and a prominent religious Zionist figure in Israel; and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria and Roy Folkman.
Hendel stressed that he was not against the government. “I’m not here against Netanyahu, I’m here for Israel,” he told the rally.
Ya’alon however, was more direct, warning that “corruption is a greater danger to Israel than Hezbollah or the Islamic State.”
Speaking to Hadashot news from the rally, Folkman said this was not a rally against the government, but only against corruption.
“I personally asked organizers that no one here speak against the prime minister,” he said.
Writing in his weekly column in Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, Hendel said that “the war on corruption must not be left to the left.”
He called “fellow right-wing people, settlers, rabbis, pre-military academy students—and even government ministers and the prime minister himself,” to join the rally.
Below is footage from Saturday’s Tel Aviv rally.
But only some several hundred people turned out, waving Israeli flags and carrying signs saying, “We deserve a clean government.” (Folkman, rejecting the widely cited smaller figure, said “I think there are close to 1,000 people here.”) It was a far cry from the thousands people who again turned out Saturday night in Tel Aviv for the fourth week in a row, calling on the “corrupt to go home.”
The ruling Likud party slammed the Jerusalem rally.
“The right does not buy this bluff. Everyone understands that this is not a demonstration against corruption, but a satellite demonstration of the left,” a Likud statement said Saturday, adding that “the only aim is to bring down the Likud government.”
Likud MKs Yehudah Glick and Oren Hazan had said they would be attending, but under reported pressure from the prime minister’s office, both pulled out on Friday.
Hazan said he would not joining the protest due to Ya’alon’s attendance which he said proved the protest was “directed at Netanyahu.” Ya’alon resigned his post as defense minister and Likud MK last year and has since railed against Netanyahu and his alleged corruption, promising to run against the prime minister as head of his own party in the next election cycle.
The demonstration comes after nearly a year of anti-corruption demonstrations held in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv, primarily organized and backed by left-leaning groups and opposition lawmakers, and follows a vehement attack this week by Netanyahu against the Israel Police and their expected recommendation to indict him.
As well as the Jerusalem protest and an estimated four thousand at the Tel Aviv demonstration, hundreds gathered at separate site in Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Modiin, and several other Israeli cities.
The latest protests were inspired by a coalition push for legislation which would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment in any particular case and from publicizing information or leaking conclusions to the media.
Hebrew media have reported that police are planning on recommending that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, possible within the next few weeks.
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 in all instances.
Speaking at a Likud rally last week, the prime minister played down the significance of expected future recommendations by police to state prosecutors that he be indicted over the graft probes.
Netanyahu told a rally of Likud members. “Here’s a fact I doubt the public knows: the vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing. More than 60 percent of police recommendations are thrown out.”