Tens of thousands of people rallied in protest on Saturday night in Tel Aviv against government corruption and new legislation that critics say is intended to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from police investigations.
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The so-called "march of shame" comes in response to a bill that will prevent Israel's police from making public their recommendations to indict following an investigation. The bill will come up for its second reading on Monday.
Netanyahu is suspected of involvement in two corruption cases. The first involves receiving gifts from wealthy businessmen and the second involves negotiating a deal with a newspaper owner for better coverage in return for curbs on a rival daily.
The protesters marched along Rothschild Boulevard to Habima Square and called forNetanyahu's imprisonment, along with slogans associating government with big business and the underworld. Tel Aviv's iconic Rothschild Boulevard was closed to traffic in both directions, the police said. Hundreds of protesters also gathered in the cities of Haifa and Rosh Pina.
Among the protesters who addressed the crowds were former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, foreign policy and security expert Prof. Uzi Arad, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin.
Meni Naftali, a former chief caretaker at the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence who won a civil suit against the Prime Minister’s Office for violation of his employee rights and has since become a leader in the protest movement against Netanyahu, spoke to the crowds.
“The prime minister will say, ‘look, the left is coming out of their houses.’ But this is not a matter of left, right or center,” Naftali said, adding that the weekly demonstrations that until now had been held near the attorney general’s home, had been useless and so they would now be held in Tel Aviv.
Levin, a retired Israeli army general, called on Netanyahu, using his nickname: “Bibi, I say to you today... history will not forgive you for what you are doing. Today I say to the cowardly members of the government and the coalition, you won’t be able to say you didn’t see. By your silence you lent a hand to corruption.”
Arad, a defense official who served as a foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu in the past, told the crowd their voices were like the “prophets of Israel, who knew to reprove the people and the government when they deviated from the straight and narrow.”
The contentious bill, called the "Recommendations Law", passed its first reading last week. It states that in cases of investigations against public figures, including investigations already underway when the law passes, the police will not make public their recommendations or pass them on to the attorney general, who may still ask for them.
The bill passed by a vote of 46 to 36. Netanyahu was not present at the vote, and MK Benny Begin (Likud) who said he opposed the bill left the hall during the vote. The bill is expected to come up for a vote on its second reading on Monday.
Netanyahu has said he has no interest in promoting personal legislation but he has not ordered its two sponsors, close confidants in his Likud party, to withdraw the bill.