As police investigations of his alleged criminal corruption mounted this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Tel Aviv rally of some 3,000 supporters Wednesday night that the left and media were waging an “obsessive witch hunt” against him and his family aimed at ousting him in a political “coup.”
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>> FULL TEXT: Netanyahu's speech to thousands of supporters at Tel Aviv rally ■ Explainer: All the scandals involving Netanyahu, and where they stand ■ How Long Can Netanyahu Continue to Serve as Prime Minister? A Short Guide
Netanyahu opened his remarks by slamming the left and “fake news,” saying the Likud has brought Israel to its best standing in history.
Long lines of Netanyahu supporters flooded the event, holding signs such as “Bibi, King of Israel” and “We are fighting for democracy, we love Netanyahu.” Buses brought in supporters from Haifa, Netanya, Be’er Sheva and Ashdod. Some 20 counter-demonstrators stood outside the rally calling for Netanyahu’s resignation.
Israeli police investigators say they suspect Netanyahu of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a pair of cases.
Netanyahu said a similar campaign was carried out against Likud’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992, and “we got the Oslo disaster and exploding buses in return.” He added, “Next thing they will call my dog in for questioning.” He criticized former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, “the old man with the new beard,” for saying “the diplomatic tsunami is on its way,” calling his warnings nonsense.
Netanyahu also implicitly mocked new Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, saying “we have it all, we have Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews, Amona and Dimona,” the former an evacuated illegal settlement outpost, the latter a working-class, largely Mizrahi town in the south.
Netanyahu criticized Haaretz for saying “all I should do is withdraw from Judea and Samaria and they will leave me alone. It won’t happen!” Netanyahu concluded by saying if the left wants to challenge Likud on diplomacy and economics, they are welcome to do so through elections, adding, “Next time we’ll get 40 seats!”
Netanyahu's former chief of staff and longtime confidant, Ari Harow, recently signed a settlement in which he agreed to testify against his former mentor. This has raised speculation that Netanyahu could be indicted soon, and has sparked opposition calls for him to step down.
Likud leaders put heavy pressure on party activists to attend the rally. Organized by Knesset coalition whip David Bitan, the rally draw many Likud ministers and MKs, including Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Culture Minister Miri Regev. Regev enthusiastically took to Facebook encouraging her followers to attend the rally “in support of our great prime minister.” Katz had posted a photo of himself and the prime minister to Twitter on Tuesday in anticipation of the event.
When 2,000 people rallied in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva last week to protest what they perceived as lenient treatment of Netanyahu in the corruption probes against him, Likud supporters held a far smaller counter-demonstration.
Bitan accused the Israeli left of ignoring the election results and trying to force his removal with corruption allegations. Bitan also slammed the media, which he termed “the corruption industry,” over supposed anti-Netanyahu bias.
Netanyahu, the second-longest serving leader in Israeli history, is engulfed in a series of scandals relating to alleged financial misdeeds and supposed illicit ties to executives in media, international business and Hollywood. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations a witch hunt.
AP contributed to this report