PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU consults with Avichai Mandelblit..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tucked into their jeans, their black T-shirts have crisp white words emblazoned upon them blaring out a biblical quote: “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards,” (Isaiah 1:23).
Thousands of protesters will gather again in Petah Tikva’s Goren Square near the home of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, to protest his handling of the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
For 37 consecutive weeks, the demonstrators – some of them wearing the warning shirts and others waving banners that read “Bibi, go home” – have decried what they claim is Mandelblit’s foot-dragging, accusing him of protecting his erstwhile colleague.
Mandelblit served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary from 2013-2016.
Chanting slogans such as “The attorney- general of the royal couple,” and “When you look after him you don’t look after us,” the demonstrators hope to raise public awareness of what they deem to be Mandelblit’s delaying tactics in the corruption cases.
Mandelblit is overseeing two separate criminal investigations against Netanyahu, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000.
Case 1000 involves alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family from billionaire benefactors, including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne said to have been given to the prime minister and his wife by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
The Netanyahus have denied that receiving the gifts constituted a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends. Protesters at the square have sized upon Netanyahu’s claim that, “They will find nothing because there is nothing,” proclaiming that investigations have stalled.
Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister is said to have promised Mozes that, in return for less critical coverage in Yediot, he would push for legislation to reduce the circulation of that newspaper’s main commercial rival, the free Israel Hayom. The deal was never implemented and Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
According to activists in Every Saturday Night at the Attorney-General’s, the number of protesters is swelling each week. They estimate that 5,000 people gathered in Petah Tikva last week, together with another 1,000 in 14 other locations throughout the country.
The protests began with a one-man show when Meni Naftali, the former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, first stood near Mandelblit’s home eight months ago, demanding that he take action against the Netanyahus. Naftali, who was awarded NIS 192,000 in damages in February after a labor court accepted his claims of mistreatment by Sara Netanyahu during his employment, is still tied up in legal battles.
He has repeatedly been detained by the police during the demonstrations, as well as having his arm broken by the police on one occasion.
Miri Nir, a retired English teacher and MDA volunteer who regularly attends the weekly protests, said police reaction was initially way out of proportion against the “normative, elderly, law-abiding citizens” who take to the square.
“Although the police are currently keeping order and treating us with respect, at the beginning they detained many of us for no reason, and occasionally used unnecessary violence,” she said. She herself was detained twice at a police station. Once she was released on a NIS 1,000 bail. “Some protesters were handcuffed and brought before a judge. We could not understand the reason for this disproportionate reaction.”
Police said in response that initial protests were fraught with tension and escalated quickly to violence as demonstrators were not apparently willing to disperse and did not heed police calls to leave and keep a distance from Mandelblit’s home.
A police statement declared that during the protest, which did not have a permit, “dozens of protesters started marching...
while part of them tried to reach streets leading up to the private home of the government’s attorney-general. That is against the law and against a High Court ruling.”
The rallies occur on a backdrop of an April ruling by the Supreme Court that said that although protests are an important and central component of any democratic society, improper pressure should not be exerted on public servants by harassing them in their private residences. After the graffiti “jail for the corrupt,” “collaborator” and “champagnes,” was found on Mandelblit’s home a permanent security guard was posted outside his home.
The weekly demonstrations are held a few minutes’ walk from Mandelblit’s house, and not directly outside. Each Saturday night the ever-growing crowd waves its banners, listens to artists such as Aviv Geffen, who last week sang to them in support, and gives a platform to activists who denounce what they claim is high-level corruption in the country. As the crowds visibly increase from week to week the demonstrations are taking on a festive air, with the protesters palpably encouraged by the burgeoning crowds.