Thousands rally at anti-Netanyahu protest ahead of vote

Thousands rally at anti-Netanyahu protest ahead of vote
3 min read
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence was met with thousands of protesters on Saturday, just days ahead of the election.
Thousands have been protesting against Netanyahu for months [Getty]
Thousands of Israelis rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence on Saturday to call for his resignation, days before a general election that could see the long-standing leader removed from power.

First launched in June last year, the vocal and colourful demonstrations against Netanyahu have gained momentum over the past 38 weeks, with Saturday night's rally due to be the largest in recent months.

Netanyahu, in power for a record 12 consecutive years, is hoping to remain in office following Israel's fourth election in less than two years on March 23.

Netanyahu, 71, was the first Israeli premier to be indicted in office for corruption when he was formally charged last year in three cases over claims he accepted improper gifts and sought to trade regulatory favour with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

The combative premier denies wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of a witch-hunt, but he would be forced to resign if convicted with all appeals exhausted.

Police warned Jerusalem residents to keep away from the site of the Saturday demonstration and the route of the march leading up to it.

Far-right alliance

Seeking to make up a potential loss of seats to the New Hope party formed last year by prominent defectors from his Likud movement, Netanyahu helped orchestrate a new alliance of far-right religious nationalists.

If this new bloc, Religious Zionism, crosses the minimum threshold required to sit in parliament, it would likely provide the pro-Netanyahu camp with four desperately needed additional seats.

The prime minister has not denied that he helped broker the pact that saw Jewish Home join forces with National Union, led by Betzalel Smotrich, and the Noam party.

Netanyahu is supporting the re-election bid of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Jewish Power movement, who has praised the perpetrator of a 1994 massacre of Palestinians.

Netanyahu has told Israeli media that Ben-Gvir will not get a cabinet position in his government, but would be part of his "coalition."

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid said in a tweet last month that it was a "disgrace" Netanyahu was "trying to push" Jewish Power into parliament.

Labour party leader Merav Michaeli has also criticised Ben-Gvir's political re-emergence, citing his incendiary conduct before the 1995 assassination of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Weeks before Rabin was shot in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo peace process, Ben-Gvir snatched the Cadillac badge from the late premier's car.

"Like we reached this symbol, we can reach him too," Ben Gvir boasted at the time.

Michaeli, a Rabin disciple, said recently of Ben-Gvir: "The gun that killed Rabin and the vision of peace in 1995 has returned to assassinate Israeli democracy."

Israeli political analyst Shmuel Rosner told AFP that Netanyahu's tacit boosting of Ben-Gvir is further evidence he has "a great passion to rule and [is] willing to do a lot to remain in power."

"He's less interested in etiquette and what people will say or think and more focused on the simple arithmetics of how to retain power.

"If that means he has to push Ben-Gvir to parliament, that won't stop him," Rosner said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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