Around a thousand people demonstrated against corruption in Tel Aviv on Friday, in the first protest since police recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for graft.
The protesters called on Netanyahu to step down, carrying banners reading ‘Crime Minister’ and ‘Bye bye Bibi’ — a common nickname for the Israeli leader.
The crowd chanted “Liar! Liar!” when one speaker sarcastically repeated Netanyahu’s common refrain about the allegations that “there will be nothing because there is nothing.”
On Tuesday, police called for Netanyahu, 68, to be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, in the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier’s long tenure in power.
He has repeatedly denied the allegations, which he says are politically motivated, and has rejected calls to step down.
Netanyahu’s partners in his coalition government have so far stood by him, and a prime minister facing such police recommendations or who has been formally charged is not obliged to resign.
“Here in this square we pledge to fight you until you resign,” activist Avi Binyamin told the crowd on Friday. “We shall keep coming here for as long as it takes.”
Netanyahu is being investigated over suspicions that he and his family received expensive gifts from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.
Between 2007 and 2016 he allegedly received cigars, champagne, jewellery and other goods estimated to be worth around NIS 1 million ($283,000).
In a second case he is accused of trying to reach an agreement with a newspaper for favorable coverage in exchange for weakening a competitor.
Netanyahu, who has served more than a decade as prime minister, has accused the police and media of a witch hunt.
The police recommendation has now been handed over to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is not obliged to act on it.
Weekly anti-corruption protests have been taking place in Tel Aviv for months.
“We are fighting for the future of this country, for the sake of our children,” Efrat Shechter, 50, told AFP.
“What has been happening in recent years is destroying our future.”
Colette Avital, a former MP for the left-wing Labor party, told AFP the march was about more than just Netanyahu.
“(It is) against the fact that the ruling government allows itself to behave like this,” she said.
Three polls published since Tuesday have found Israelis fairly evenly split — with between 45 percent and 50% saying Netanyahu should either resign or temporarily step aside, while between 40% and 43% think he should stay.
A poll in the Maariv newspaper on Friday found 48% of Israelis think he is either somewhat corrupt or very corrupt.
Mandelblit on Thursday hailed police investigators and the quality of the work they did during the year-long probe.
“These investigations were done according to the book, precisely in the way you would expect of law enforcement authorities handling a case like this — professionally, thoroughly, resourcefully, smartly, with a determination to establish the truth,” he told a conference at Tel Aviv University.
“I hear efforts to suggest a rift between the police, the prosecution and the Attorney General’s office,” he said, referring to TV reports on Wednesday that claimed state prosecutors believe the police did not have enough evidence to justify some of the charges they recommended be brought against Netanyahu on Tuesday, and that the case had been wrapped up prematurely.
Plainly, reports asserting such frictions were the unfounded product of efforts to try to manufacture divisions and frictions, said Mandelblit.
“We have worked together with full cooperation to turn over every stone and to bring the truth to light,” Mandelblit said. “I recommend being very skeptical about reports of rifts and tension between the various law enforcement bodies.”
He vowed to ignore “all the background noise” and focus solely on establishing the truth.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.