Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Saturday night to demand transparency and accountability among elected officials.
In Jerusalem, some 600 people attended the rally at Zion Square, intended to be an alternative “pro” demonstration supporting the country’s institutions, as opposed to the anti-corruption tone of the protest held in Tel Aviv for the third week.
The key speaker at the rally was former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who criticized the current leadership as corrupt and divisive.
“This is not leadership. Leadership should unite, not divide. Politicians are turning topics such as integrity into ‘Left and Right’ issues,” he said.
Ya’alon then said that in the past, when asked what keeps him awake at night people expected him to say Iran, “But I answered: ‘Corruption.’”
“Corruption causes the common citizen to lose faith in our leadership and in the country’s institutions,” he said. “It is a bigger danger than the Iranian threat, Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS.”
Commentators from the right including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, noted the participation of one protester who was walking around holding a cardboard model of a guillotine.
''The guillotine [that was used] tonight in Rothschild avenue [in Tel Aviv] is a call to murder prime minister Netanyahu [presented] alongside derogatory remarks against Zionism, the left protest in Rothschild crossed all the red lines.''
Attendees at the rally waved Israeli flags, and held signs reading: “We deserve clean politics,” and “Rule of law is not a matter of Left and Right.”
Protesters chanted: “Not Left and not Right – we are walking straight,” as well as, “Corruption is dangerous, we support the country.”
One of the main organizers of the rally, journalist Yoaz Hendel, stressed that it was not against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in favor of rule of law in Israel.
“I am not against Netanyahu, he has many advantages and great experience. I am here for the State of Israel. You can say whatever you want about my interests... [But] I am here because of how I was brought up.”
You cannot live at peace with a “divide and conquer” method of government, he said, with the fact that our political leaders do not find it important to set an example, to display humility, or to aspire to be a model society.
It was reported that politicians from the coalition have received threats not to attend the rally, which was portrayed as an “anti-Netanyahu” demonstration.
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu), who attended the event, told The Jerusalem Post
that she was there to express support for the Supreme Court, the Israel Police and other institutions “that were under attack recently.”
“We are here to show that we are for the rule of law. Even among the Right, there are people who think that there are things that should improve, and there is criticism against those institutions, but there are also good things in them,” she said.
“The fact that so many people came out today – with short notice and with pressure against them – shows their devotion to the country,” Ben-Ari said.
At the same time, a smaller protest was held by supporters of the Left at the capital’s Paris Square, across from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
COALITION CHAIRMAN David Amsalem started his tenure with a surprising statement on Saturday, telling the Bar Association in Eilat: “A prime minister of the State of Israel who has been indicted for bribery cannot serve as prime minister.”
Amsalem balanced out what he said by adding that he did not believe the investigation of the prime minister in the “expensive gifts affair,” known as Case 1000, is legitimate.
“I think that in a reasonable democratic regime that is logical and balanced, you don’t investigate a prime minister who received cigars from a friend,” he said. “It is absurd and it creates a slippery slope. Tomorrow, why don’t we arrest and question a prime minister if he received a few pieces of chocolate? After all, the law is the same for a penny and a fortune.”
Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson said: “Any indictment of a prime minister is grave and should prevent him from continuing to serve. A country cannot be run from the bench of the accused in court.”
Amsalem responded to the uproar over his statement by writing on Twitter, “I am sorry to disappoint the Left and the press but this is my point of view: The police recommendations have no legal or public weight. From my perspective, bribery is receiving envelopes with forbidden money, not cigars from a personal friend. So the [hypothetical] indictment that I spoke about is not relevant at all to the prime minister.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who has sparred with Amsalem repeatedly at the Knesset, said he had no right to redefine bribery to meet his political needs.
A Midgam poll broadcasted on Channel 2 Saturday night found that 63% of Israelis believe Netanyahu must quit if police recommend charges of breach of trust and fraud, lesser crimes than bribery. The poll of 504 respondents representing a statistical sample of the population found that 27% believe Netanyahu would not have to quit, and 10% did not know or did not have an answer. The poll had a 4.4% margin of error.
Asked if the allegations are justified or a witch-hunt, 59% said justified, 27% said witch-hunt and 14% said they did not know.
ON TEL AVIV’S Rothschild Boulevard on Saturday night, thousands of protesters convened for a third consecutive week to protest corruption among elected officials.
Holding a bullhorn, Amit Zilberg, 38, a self-professed “centrist attorney,” noted that the anti-corruption movement had gained significant traction nationally, with at least 15 other protests taking place Saturday throughout the country, including in Jerusalem.
“They should be protesting all over the country,” he said, as streams of people continued to congregate at the closed-off section of the upscale boulevard while police oversaw the activity.
“The corruption is everywhere,” he continued. “Here it is too much – every [politician] in every city is corrupt and the opposition is not fighting the right way. They need to fight harder. That’s why tens of thousands are out here to help them keep fighting.”
Ori Betsalel, 64, has participated in all three weekly protests in Tel Aviv despite living in Nahariya, the northernmost coastal city in the country.
“I keep coming because I am disappointed by the corruption,” he said. “There are too many things and they are trying to make rules for themselves to avoid investigations. This is way beyond what I can tolerate.”
Moreover, Betsalel, who attended Saturday night’s protest with his daughter Einat, deemed the level of perceived corruption to be “unprecedented,” and therefore transcending political leanings.
“This is not a question about Right or Left,” he said. “This is a question about almost total corruption.”
Einat, a 34-year-old resident of Jaffa, said the protests are long overdue.
“I’m happy people are finally waking up after sleeping for a long time,” she said. “The public can no longer sleep because they realize that a line has been crossed by the government that made them finally understand that the government is not really for them – that they are for themselves.”
Einat continued: “And more people realize they can do something about it.”
Recalling the unusually large turnout during the 2011 social justice protests in the same area that resulted in “tent cities” for large stretches of Rothschild Boulevard, she said a similarly galvanizing response is under way regarding corruption.
“There is a power sleeping in this country, and when it rises up, it rises with a lot of power,” Betsalel said. “So, I am here to make this power bigger.”
Meanwhile, a few meters away, near where Rothschild begins, a group of roughly seven male and female counterprotesters – protected by metal barriers and police – used megaphones of their own to support the prime minister.
Elad, a 32-year-old hi-tech worker who asked that his last name not be published for fear of reprisal, said the huge adjacent anti-government group of protesters was being unfair to the prime minister.
“They seem to have this urgency to convict Netanyahu without a trial, and that is very not liberal,” he said, adding that he believes the collective anger is strictly politically based.
“Secondly, the police should not be able to recommend indictments of political officials, because 60% [of such recommendations] are thrown in the garbage, and all the while the lives of the people who are being investigated are ruined. They lose their careers, maybe even lose their families.”
Elad continued: “It’s a system of getting rid of people you don’t want in politics.”
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