Tens of thousands of protesters took part in an anti-corruption demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night amid the government’s efforts to push through the so-called police recommendations bill, which critics say is intended to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of graft probes.
The protest, which was organized by the leaders of the weekly anti-corruption demonstrations held near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, was held under the banner “The March of Shame.” Turnout was far higher than at previous such protests.
Participants in the march — which Channel 10 estimated numbered around 20,000, and other reports put as high as 50,000 — carried signs railing against alleged government corruption and led chants against Netanyahu and Mandelblit.
The city’s leafy Rothschild Boulevard, where the demonstration took place, was closed to traffic as a result of the march.
רוטשילד, הערב. pic.twitter.com/arfCEHp0qz
— Moav Vardi (@MoavVardi) December 2, 2017
Hundreds of protesters also attended similar demonstrations in Jerusalem and Haifa.
The protests came as the coalition continues to push forward 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.
As the crowd size at the Tel Aviv protest surged, a number of top opposition figures took to social media to speak out against the bill.
In a Twitter post praising the demonstrators, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said protesters were motivated by a “strong sense of unfairness, from disgust with corruption and strong moral opposition to a law tailor-made for one man.”
Herzog called on the protesters to “lay siege” to the Knesset in order to help prevent the passage of the bill, which is expected to be voted in on its second and third readings on Monday.
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay implored coalition heads to vote against the legislation in a video uploaded to Facebook.
“The recommendations bill will determine what side of history you stand on: on the side of corruption or the side of the Israeli people,” said Gabbay.
Likud MK David Amsalem, the author of the bill, has been working to fast-track the proposed legislation with the aim of passing it on Monday in its second and third readings. The bill cleared an initial reading in the Knesset this week.
Several cabinet members on Thursday 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 on Thursday 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.