About 20,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv Saturday to protest the slow pace of investigation into government corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and dozens of members of his ruling party.
Since August, Netanyahu has been under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from wealthy campaign contributors in exchange for political favors. Netanyahu also faces charges of seeking to strike a deal with a major Israeli newspaper to garner more favorable coverage.
Saturday’s protest was a result of the Israeli parliament’s recent push for a new law that would ban police from publicizing the conclusions of their investigations into serving politicians. Protesters claimed that the legislation, introduced by members of Netanyahu’s Likud party, would effectively nullify the investigations into Netanyahu regardless of their outcome. Legislators said they were only looking to protect the rights of those accused.
“[Netanyahu] and his government are destroying the country. There’s been enough corruption,” Michal, a demonstrator and Tel Aviv resident who preferred not to give his full name, told The Guardian on Saturday.
Protesters have organized weekly demonstrations in front of the home of Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, since the corruption charges came to light. Saturday’s rally featured protesters marching through an upper-class neighborhood of Tel Aviv, shouting “shame!” and “Bibi go home!”, referencing Netanyahu’s nickname.
Netanyahu has continuously denied any wrongdoing and called the investigations a political attack orchestrated by opposition leaders.
The government’s investigation ramped up on Sunday as Israeli police questioned David Bitan, a member of Likun and Netanyahu’s right-hand man in parliament, on suspicion of receiving bribes, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust, according to The Times of Israel.
Bitan was detained shortly after police detained 17 other government officials and employees as part of the corruption probe. According to Haaretz, six of those arrested had direct ties to Bitan.
“This morning, 10 suspects were detained for questioning under caution and seven others were detained on suspicion of involvement in bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and money laundering offenses under the income tax laws,” police said in a statement.
In November, Israeli detectives questioned Netanyahu for a fifth time over the alleged corruption charges.
Local reports said that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, also had been questioned as part of the same investigation, for allegedly asking former Secretary of State John Kerry for help in getting a U.S. visa for billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan at Netanyahu’s request.
If charged, Netanyahu would face staunch political opposition to resign or to call a nationwide referendum to determine whether or not he still maintained a mandate. Netanyahu is currently serving his fourth term as prime minister. If his current government lasts a full term, he will become the longest-serving prime minister in the history of Israel.