Thousands of demonstrators demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation at a Saturday protest in Tel Aviv.
The protesters gathered in the city’s Habima Square bearing signs with slogans including “Netanyahu, resign, Israel is more important,” and “Strong democracy, strong Israel.”
Some 5,000 people were present for the start of the rally, the Ynet news site reported. Israel’s Channel 12 estimated that at least 6,000 people were at the gathering.
One protester, a resident of Jerusalem, told Ynet (Hebrew) that he came to the demonstration to “tell the most cowardly prime minister we’ve ever had that I think he needs to resign and go plead his case in court. Other than that, I don’t want to hear anything about him.”
Another protester said she was at the demonstration because she was “sick of the corruption.”
“We need to send Bibi home,” she told Ynet, using Netanyahu’s nickname in Israel. “He’s corrupt.”
The event was organized by the Movement for Quality Government advocacy group and was held following a Tuesday demonstration in support of Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
At Tuesday’s event, several thousand Netanyahu backers rallied in support of the embattled premier’s claims that prosecutors set to indict him for graft were attempting to overthrow him in a “coup.”
The crowd on Tuesday waved Israeli flags and held signs that advanced Netanyahu’s demand to “investigate the investigators.” They read, “Investigate [State Attorney] Shai Nitzan,” “Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari to jail,” “Stop the persecution,” and “Cops — or criminals?”
Netanyahu, who was rumored to be deliberating whether to address the rally, did not appear. Also noticeably absent were Likud lawmakers and cabinet ministers, many of whom have remained pointedly silent in recent days, refusing to support Netanyahu or to criticize him.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges against Netanyahu in three corruption cases on November 21. An hour later, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking to oust him from power using false corruption charges in an “attempted coup.”
Netanyahu claimed that the investigations were tainted by various improprieties, and accused law enforcement authorities of “selective enforcement” against him.
“I deeply respect the justice system in Israel. But you have to be blind not to see that something bad is happening to police investigators and the prosecution. We’re seeing an attempted coup by the police with false accusations [against me],” Netanyahu charged.
Mandelblit on Tuesday condemned the “threats,” “lies” and “baseless slander” directed against law enforcement, in a rebuke of Netanyahu and his supporters’ efforts to discredit the justice system.
“The dignified approach we take is not always embraced by others,” Mandelblit said, hours before the Likud rally.
“I am hearing expressions that don’t have a place in public discourse that are directed at the law enforcement system, and certain senior officials inside it. I am hearing threats. I am hearing lies. I am hearing baseless slander. That is simply shocking,” the attorney general said at a conference of state attorneys in Eilat.
Mandelblit’s announcement of charges did not include the official filing of an indictment, as the Knesset must first decide whether to grant Netanyahu procedural immunity, a process that — due to the current political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government — could drag on for months.
On Wednesday, last-ditch coalition negotiations between the Likud and Blue and White parties appeared to swiftly hit a dead end, with Blue and White No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon saying his party would not sit in a government led by Netanyahu, unless the premier was cleared of the criminal charges against him.
Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office while he fights the criminal charges, which include bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in one case, and additional fraud and breach of trust charges in another two cases.
Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March 2020.