TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis marched against corruption in Tel Aviv on Friday, in the first protest since police recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for graft.
Several thousand people gathered for the protest calling 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 Abi 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 one million shekels (229,000 euros, $283,000).
In a second unrelated case he is accused of trying to reach an agreement with a newspaper for favourable coverage in exchange for weakening a competitor.
Netanyahu, who has served more than a decade as prime minister in two stints, has accused the police and media of a witch hunt.
The police recommendation has now been handed over to the 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, said.
“What has been happening in recent years is destroying our future.” Colette Avital, a former MP for the left-wing Labour party, said 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 per cent and 50 per cent saying Netanyahu should either resign or temporarily step aside, while between 40 per cent and 43 per cent think he should stay.
A poll in the Maariv newspaper on Friday found 48 per cent of Israelis think he is either somewhat corrupt or very corrupt.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2018