Over 10,000 people protested across Israel Saturday night against corruption in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Thousands of people marched on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, some 800 rallied in Jerusalem's Zion Square and hundreds demonstrated in the northern city of Haifa.
The rally in Jerusalem marked the first time Israelis on the right, among them voters for Netanyahu’s Likud party, gathered against corruption, with an eye toward Netanyahu. The protest was initiated by a former communications director for Netanyahu, publicist Yoaz Hendel. In a widely shared Facebook post, Hendel wrote, "On Saturday I'm going out to protest – not in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem, not 'against' but 'for' the rule of law."
The Likud Party responded to Saturday's protest, saying that "the guillotine tonight on Rothschild is incitement for the death of Prime Minister Netanyahu, in addition to derogatory comments against Zionism. The left's protests on Rothschild crossed all red lines."
The Tel Aviv rally, attended mostly by those who occupy the center and left flanks of the political spectrum, marked the fourth consecutive week demonstrators have poured into the streets and demanded the resignation of Netanyahu. Protesters marched with signs reading, "Not leftist, not rightist, but honest!," "big business, politicians, and the underworld" and "go home, corrupt ones!"
Speaking at the Jerusalem rally, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that corruption "is a greater danger [to Israel] than the Iranian threat, Hezbollah, Hamas, or the Islamic State."
Protesters in Jerusalem chanted, "without professionalism there is no state," and held signs saying, "the police and IDF [Israel Defense Forces] belong to us all" and "we deserve clean politics."
Also at the Tel Aviv rally, Noam Hammerman, a 50-year-old psychologist from Ramat Hasharon, told Haaretz that the government has been crippled by corruption. "This is not about left or right, but about the corruption that brings us all down." He said. "I'm here to show my solidarity with the values of the state of Israel. Politicians can no longer be allowed to be above the law."
Mirit Cohen, 39, from Ranaana, joined the crowds streaming down Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard for the first time Saturday night. "We should have come before. Now we feel that we are on the brink of possible indictments and want to be part of this wave of protest so the authorities feel pressure from the public. We hope this will help do something," Cohen told Haaretz.
Nearby, a man held a handmade sign that read "Crime Minister" and people chanted, "This is our country, not Netanyahu's country." A large puppet of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, floated over the crowd with a sign reading "Ben-Gurion established and Netanyahu destroy."
It was a large and energetic demonstration, with people blowing on whistles, banging on drums, shaking tambourines, bellowing chants into loudspeakers and waving Israeli flags.
Smaller demonstrations took place in northern Israel, with hundreds gathering in Haifa, around 200 at the Tzemach Junction, 100 in Rosh Pina, and tens in Nahariya.
The police are investigating Netanyahu and some of his associates in two major corruption cases and both sides of the Israeli political divide are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of the long-serving prime minister. Netanyahu denies the charges against him and has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the police, suggesting in a recent speech that they were incompetent.
The grassroots Tel Aviv gatherings have been attracting upward of 10,000 people a week.
Netanyahu is being investigated in two separate cases.
The first investigation is about allegations that he received lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen.
The police are also investigating allegations Netanyahu attempted to make a deal with the owner of Yediot Ahronoth, a popular Israeli newspaper that is often critical of the prime minister, to assure he would get more favorable coverage.
Another scandal, dubbed the “submarine affair” involves Netanyahu associates. It deals with the allegations of bribery in a deal between Israel and Germany worth over a billion dollars.
Past demonstrations in Tel Aviv have brought in crowds of tens of thousands of people.
Those that took part in the first protest came out in anger of a proposed bill that would have prevented police from publicizing recommendations on indictments. The controversial bill was widely believed to have been drafted to protect Netanyahu.
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