A stunning tirade highlights Israeli divide over Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the district court in Jerusalem. (AP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

A stunning tirade highlights Israeli divide over Netanyahu

  • Israel has been deeply divided for decades, between religious and secular Jews

JERUSALEM: He named police investigators and prosecutors. He accused them of using “Soviet style” extor- tion to turn witnesses against him. He even claimed that elderly Ho- locaust survivors were on his side, sympathizing with his plight.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long faced accusations of using his formidable oratory skills and flair for the dramatic to sow divisions between friends and foes. But his fulminating tirade against Israel’s legal system — launched in the lobby of the very courthouse where he went on trial for corruption charges — seemed to enter new territory.

Israel has been deeply divided for decades, between religious and secular Jews, between those who favored a deal with the Palestinians and those who opposed it. But Netanyahu’s blistering attack on the legitimacy of Israel’s legal system threatened to shake the very foundations of the state and has remained a topic of debate all week.

“There have always been harsh political arguments, but there was always agreement on the rules of the game,” said Dan Meridor, a former justice minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party. “The prime minister needs to model behavior. Instead, he’s taking his trial out to the street. He’s challenging the existing order and it’s very dangerous.”

Surrounded by loyal deputies and with hundreds of adoring supporters chanting outside, Netanyahu arrived at the courthouse Sunday ready for battle. Before entering the courtroom, he accused police, prosecutors, the courts and the media of an ideologically driven grand conspiracy to oust him against the will of the people. He said he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and made veiled threats against those conducting his investigations.

His months of fiery rhetoric against the institutions of the state he leads have drawn comparisons to his loaded denunciations as opposition leader 25 years ago during the charged period that preceded the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu’s own appointed attorney general says he’s received concrete threats and the prosecutor in the case has been assigned a bodyguard.


Protesters pack Tel Aviv rally against coronavirus cash crisis

Updated 7 min 18 sec ago

Protesters pack Tel Aviv rally against coronavirus cash crisis

  • Event was organized by self-employed, small business and performing artists’ groups angry at coronavirus curbs which have taken away their livelihoods

TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis streamed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest Saturday against the government’s handling of economic hardship caused by coronavirus curbs.
About 300 officers were deployed in the square, a traditional protest site, to ensure public order and monitor social distancing regulations, police said.
Many participants wore facemasks but most appeared to be less than the statutory two meters (yards) apart.
Some held banners reading in Hebrew: “Let us breathe” — an echo of worldwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during a US police arrest.
The event was organized by self-employed, small business and performing artists’ groups angry at coronavirus curbs which have taken away their livelihoods.
Student unions also took part over the large numbers of young people made jobless by closures.
Israel imposed a broad lockdown from the middle of March, allowing only staff deemed essential to go to work and banning public assembly.
Places of entertainment were closed, hitting the leisure industry hard.
Facing public and economic pressure, the government eased restrictions in late May.
But infections have mounted and rules tightened again, including the closure of event venues, clubs, bars, gyms and public pools.
While salaried workers sent on furlough received unemployment benefits, the self-employed said most had been waiting months for promised government aid.
“There is a very grave crisis of confidence between us and the government,” Shai Berman, one of the protest organizers told Israeli public radio ahead of the rally.
“We are part of a very large public which is feeling growing distress and wants to demonstrate and simply does not believe the promises,” he added.
Berman was among activists invited Friday to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and finance ministry officials in a last-minute government effort to stave off the protest.
“He tried, very politely,” Berman said, adding that an aid package presented at the meeting was a start, but flawed.
Netanyahu promised swift implementation.
“We will meet our commitments including hastening the immediate payments that we want to give you,” his office quoted him as telling the activists.
On Friday, the health ministry announced the highest number of coronavirus infections over a 24-hour period, with nearly 1,500 new cases confirmed.
The country of roughly nine million has now registered more than 37,000 cases, including over 350 deaths.