Afew hours after the sun set on Yom Kippur, a crowd of people streamed into Goren Square in Petah Tikva holding signs and megaphones. This is not the first or second time they have come to this spot – they have been arriving every Saturday night since last November to demonstrate against Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
“I’ve been coming here from day one,” Abe Benyamin, from Rishon Lezion, told The Jerusalem Post Magazine. “We are demonstrating to put pressure on the attorney general to come to a decision in the ongoing cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mandelblit is doing everything he can to dissolve the investigations, slow them down and frustrate the path to justice.”
When pressed to give an explanation of how this is so, Benyamin responds: “For example, Mandelblit had possession of the recordings of Netanyahu conspiring with [Arnon] Noni Mozes for nine months, yet he put off an investigation.”
Benyamin is referring to the recordings of Netanyahu’s confidant and consultant Ari Harow in which the prime minister is heard allegedly negotiating a deal with Mozes, a media mogul and billionaire, as well as Netanyahu’s longtime nemesis.
The suspicion hovering over Netanyahu’s head is that he and Mozes were involved in an instance of fraud and bribery dubbed “Case 2000” by the police investigators. During their conversation, they talked about how to prevent the newspaper Israel Hayom from damaging the sales of another publication, Yediot Aharonot, which Mozes owns. Mozes is heard asking the prime minister: “What’s the bottom line? How can we get it done?” “We can pass a law,” replied the head of state.
“It’s nuts,” continues Benyamin. “In possession of these recordings, Mandelblit should have at least ordered Netanyahu to resign from his position as communications minster. It’s mind-blowing that Netanyahu, serving both as prime minster and communication minster, was attempting to strike a deal with the press like this and the attorney-general did nothing. The Supreme Court had to twist his arm to kindle the investigations in cases 1000 and 2000.”
Case 1000 hovers around allegations that Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts – mostly cigars and champagne – from billionaire benefactors. In February, the police recommended indictment in the case.
What did Mandelblit do? “He made Ari Harow turn state’s witness,” says Benyamin.
“This is a joke. Harow already spilled the beans. He said everything he knows. We don’t need more stories about how Netanyahu wrongfully received gifts.
Pardon my vulgar language, but if you go to a whore and see one, two or three customers – you know it’s a whore. You don’t need to interview each and every customer. The same goes with the gift cases. They dig up more and more stories instead of moving forward.
“Not to mention that in the most serious case – Case 3000, where Netanyahu’s personal lawyer was involved in a shady €2 billion deal to purchase submarines from a German shipbuilder – Netanyahu hasn’t been investigated yet.”
Benyamin formerly worked in tech and now identifies as a social activist who is a Labor Party member. In the past, he ran for the position of secretary-general. “If there was a rotten apple in our bag I would be as harsh on us as I am on Netanyahu,” he said.
“I appealed to the Supreme Court, demanding that the attorney general do his job, but they turned it down. This brought me to the attention of the prime minister himself. He published clips against me, mentioned me in his speeches and his lawyer, Yossi Cohen, filed an unsuccessful libel suit against me. All I did was rehash a story that went viral at the time – that Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, has a second passport that he uses for offshore bank accounts in Panama. I don’t know if it’s true or untrue. All I did is relate information that was already out there. Anyways, I took the story down.”
When asked how Benyamin would describe the participants in the demonstration, he responds: “The young folks don’t show their faces as much. Most demonstrators are rather old. People who care. Who knew a different country once. You don’t see many haredim or Arabs here, but we are both from the Left and the Right.”
“The first time I came here, I felt conflicted,” says Modi Levin, a retired policeman who served as the deputy to the head of the National Fraud Investigation Unit. Levin was in the investigation room eyeto-eye with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, Knesset members and deputy ministers.
“I asked myself, how I, a law enforcement person who wore a uniform for more than 30 years, could demonstrate against the one who is supposed to enforce the law. But I came to understand, and this is an understatement, that his [Mandelblit’s] behavior is below par – indecent. He must advance the investigations.”
Some of the demonstrators’ shouts suggest the attorney-general is Netanyahu’s friend and that concerns about his future career are behind his inaction.
Is there a chance that Mandelblit will actually push for indictment?
“If he doesn’t, people will take him to the Supreme Court,” says Levin. “There was a case in which former attorney-general Yosef Harish closed a fraud case and the Supreme Court intervened, ruling it should be reopened. The case moved forward and some of the accused were sent to jail.”
These demonstrations are now in their 46th week. How do the participants feel about their size and effectiveness? Are they getting bigger or smaller? “It started small. Meni Naftali initiated it and many others joined him. At its peak, we were 5,000 people here; after Yom Kippur only a few hundred arrived. But we are still in full swing,” Levin says.
NAFTALI IS the man who kickstarted the Saturday night demonstration club. He served as Netanyahu’s housekeeper. Today, Naftali hopes to see his former boss jailed. “It didn’t happened to me in one day,” Naftali told the Magazine. “A person like myself doesn’t simply flip. My dad was a hardworking man. He was a building contractor. He was falsely accused of stealing money, but even when it was proven that he wasn’t guilty, he preferred not to go back to his old job and bought a farm. It wasn’t an easy life; many times thieves would steal our cattle overnight. Many things went wrong. I was an only boy among sisters. I was spoiled at home, but outside, as early as eight or nine years old, I chased cows and took part in farm work.
“I had problems in my teens. I switched schools all the time. I grew up in a rotten area. For years the heads of the municipality stole money and neglected educational needs. However, I did become a combat solider in the army – the first in our area.”
Naftali served in an IDF commando unit and afterwards took up numerous security-related jobs. He then married, settled in Afula and had two children before joining the Prime Minster’s Residence crew. “Two months into the job is when the problems started,” Naftali says. “Sara Netanyahu asked me to move closer to Jerusalem. I was willing to do anything to become a permanent worker. I saw what happened to my dad. I wanted to secure my future, so that at the age of 40 I wouldn’t be left jobless. I put my heart and soul into my work.
The prime minister would need only to raise his hand and I knew what he was about to ask for. So I moved my family. I rented an apartment in Modi’in, and found new schools for my children. Over a year and a half later, there was a debacle around a closet that was falling apart. She [Sara Netanyahu] wasn’t happy. She thought I lied about the closet and shouted at me, saying that she wanted me to take a polygraph test. This episode only begins to scratch the surface of what transpired at the residence, but at that point, after they didn’t fulfill their promise that I’d become a permanent worker, it was too much and I left.”
In 2014, Naftali sued the State of Israel and the Netanyahus for their alleged mistreatment. The media pounced on the story, especially on Naftali’s descriptions of Sara Netanyahu’s bursts of anger, unreasonable requests and racist remarks about Naftali’s Mizrahi background. For example, she purportedly demanded milk in a bag instead of in a carton, at 3 a.m.
Naftali eventually won the case, receiving partial compensation and Sara Netanyahu’s appeal was rejected. However, Naftali claims the couple has tried to seek revenge by taking away his gun license, which deprived him of work as a security guard. Now, he works in construction.
The Netanyahus called Naftali a liar. Yossi Cohen, the couple’s lawyer, added in a statement that “You cannot believe a word coming out of the mouth of the serial offender and the serial liar,” referring to Naftali.
Naftali also believes his house was broken into, but nothing was taken. This raised his suspicions about who was behind it; he believes it was the Netanyahus. In another epsiode, Naftali claims that a charge against him of sexual assault, filed by a coworker – a charge he vehemently denies – was motivated by the Netanyahus.
“Cohen is not a lawyer,” Naftali says. “He fabricates documents. He’s a crook. They brought up this sexual harassment charge because they knew it would disturb me. But what didn’t happen, didn’t happen. She [the accuser] is laughing in the recordings of our conversations and she giggled when we were confronted by the police. There are many contradictions in this case.”
Since the demonstrations started, Naftali has been arrested four times, the last time some six weeks ago. In one instance, he says, the police broke his hand.
“They are trying to intimidate me in every corner. My children were harmed in school. My wife is worried she will lose her job. My parents lost their jobs. But I’m resilient. I came to Mandelblit’s home when we started to demonstrate and told him, ‘You took away my livelihood. I’m going to take away yours.’ I told him that ‘I’m starting to demonstrate outside your house every week.’ I had 20 people with me then, and he called the cops, saying that I was harassing him. We continue to demonstrate no matter what the weather is,” he says.
“I ask myself, why are my parents so hardworking and still struggle and this couple has everything? Something is screwed up. How is this person supposed to look after the wretched and the poor?”