Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night for an anti-corruption demonstration aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is being investigated in a pair of graft probes, and amid government efforts to push through the so-called police recommendations bill.
Netanyahu’s close political ally and chairman of the coalition, David Bitan, has also been grilled at length this past week over separate allegations of bribery and links with organized crime during his time as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv. Bitan is a key proponent of the controversial bill.
The protesters on Saturday called for Netanyahu’s resignation and for all “corrupt officials [to] go home.” They shouted “shame” and “mafia” and carried signs railing against alleged government corruption, leading chants against Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit whom they accuse of shielding the prime minister.
Rothschild Boulevard, where the demonstration took place, was closed to traffic as a result of the protest, as were several surrounding streets. Last week’s protest in the same spot drew tens of thousands for a “March of Shame.”
The protests were organized by the leaders of the weekly anti-corruption demonstrations which have been held near Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva for the past year. Groups from the Meretz party, Hadash (Communist) party, clean government and animal rights groups took part as well.
The ruling Likud party responded angrily to the demonstration, accusing the protest leaders of dealing in “division” amid opposition from numerous countries to US President Donald Trump’s decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A small counter-protest took place near Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard. Playing traditional Jewish music, a protest leader shouted, “we are the real Jewish people and poked fun at “leftists Ashkenazi Jews drinking their cappuccinos.”
Netanyahu left late Saturday for Paris and Brussels to meet with European officials on their stance on Israel and the US move to recognize Jerusalem, which was met with dismay in western European capitals.
“Instead of rallying the whole nation together behind Jerusalem and presenting a united front to the world, the Left can’t help itself and prefers to deal in division,” the Likud said.
“On the night Netanyahu sets off to present Israel in the face of the opposition to Trump’s declaration and at a time when demonstrations are being held across the Arab world where Israeli and American flags are being burned, the Left is holding a protest in Tel Aviv,” the party said.
Reports in the Hebrew media put participants Saturday night at over 10,000. Last week, up to 50,000 took part in the demonstration.
Hundreds held a similar protest on Saturday in Haifa.
The protests came as the coalition has pushed 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.
The bill was supposed to come before second and third readings on Monday but the vote was delayed amid fears it would not pass. Netanyahu declared that its provisions would not apply to the investigations against him.
Likud MK David Amsalem, the author of the bill, had been working to fast-track the proposed legislation after it cleared an initial reading in the Knesset last week.
Several cabinet members have expressed reservations about the draft law, which is under revision in the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, chaired by Amsalem.
New clauses added to the bill by the committee would allow police to continue issuing recommendations to prosecutors on the evidentiary basis for charges — but not an explicit call to indict — in all cases except for those overseen by a prosecutor. Currently, police do not explicitly recommend indictments but issue a summary outlining whether there is an evidential basis for charges.
In cases overseen by a prosecutor — namely high-profile cases, such as against public officials — recommendations on both the evidentiary basis and indictments are forbidden, the draft said. However, new exceptions have reportedly been added for national security crimes, sex crimes and in cases involving criminal organizations. Investigators who leak information from cases could be jailed for a year, according to the bill.
Mandelblit, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the Israel Police are all opposed to the legislation.
Netanyahu is being investigated in a pair of corruption probes, known as cases 1000 and 2000, that involve suspicions he received favors from Israeli businessman in exchange for advancing their business interests. He denies the allegations against him.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.