Rivlin praises anti-corruption protests as essential for democracy
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Rivlin praises anti-corruption protests as essential for democracy

Citing recent demonstrations directed against Netanyahu, president urges public debate in city squares

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference on education policy, on December 26, 2017. (FLASH90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference on education policy, on December 26, 2017. (FLASH90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday praised public protests as a cornerstone of Israel’s democracy, listing among other examples recent demonstrations — and counter-demonstrations — against alleged government corruption that were mostly directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy, Rivlin hailed social networks for mobilizing the masses.

“The [online] social networks are really great, a wonderful thing, they raise awareness and tell what is going on around us,” Rivlin said, according to a report by Channel 10.

“We have some wonderful examples of the influence of the social networks on reality: the protests of the summer 2011, demonstrations for and against [the social justice movement]; the demonstrations for and against in the recent months that went from the square in Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv and from there to other squares; [and the] MeToo campaign.”

The protests referred to by the president were the 2011 mass demonstrations against the  rising cost of living; gatherings in recent months protesting alleged stalling by law enforcement in corruption allegations against Netanyahu; and the more recent MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Months of demonstrations by hundreds of protesters outside the Petah Tivah home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have swelled to demonstrations by thousands on four consecutive Saturday nights in Tel Aviv against government corruption. A right-wing protest against corruption drew several hundred protesters on Saturday night.

At the most recent Tel Aviv event, held last Saturday night, one protester caused outrage by parading with a cardboard guillotine. That sign was condemned by Rivlin as “incitement.”

A man with a cardboard guillotine attends an anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017 (screen capture: 0404.co.il)

“Take note that all of the examples that moved from words to actions, went from the screen and took hold in the real world,” Rivlin continued. “There is no replacement for the real, physical city squares. We need to raise a generation that will remember that real democracy can perhaps begin on the web, but will never replace the need and the necessity of taking a real part in decisions, in debates, and in social action.”

Later on Tuesday, in a Twitter post, Rivlin appeared to criticize planned controversial legislation that would influence the relationship between police and state prosecutors, or weaken the Supreme Court.

“Israel will [soon] celebrate 70 years,” he wrote of the upcoming anniversary in May. “If we want to guarantee the next 70 years, so I said at the Lautman education conference, we need to stubbornly defend the democratic institutes, and to demand from the public servants, our elected officials, to back up their words and video clips on social media with actions that make clear the red lines that democracy can’t tolerate.”

The latest anti-corruption protests were invigorated by a coalition push for legislation which would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment in investigations into public officials. As Rivlin spoke, the opposition was filibustering the final votes on the so-called police recommendations bill in the Knesset.

Hebrew media have reported that police are planning on recommending Netanyahu face charges in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 been questioned seven times since January in connection with the cases. He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

Rivlin also appeared to be referring to a fresh push by lawmakers to curtail Israel’s courts. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her party leader Naftali Bennett last week published their draft for a bill that would curb the authority of the High Court of Justice and the Supreme Court in striking down Knesset legislation.

The newly unveiled draft would prevent the courts from disqualifying any quasi-constitutional Basic Laws — passed with the support of at least 61 of the 120 lawmakers in each of its three plenary readings.

The draft legislation says the court will only be able to strike down any other laws with a special panel of nine presiding justices, and only if two-thirds of the justices supported the move.

Mandelblit has warned that the bill would “cause significant harm to Israeli democracy.”

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