Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in central Tel Aviv in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, less than a week after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would be indicted on bribery charges.
The theme of the demonstration was “Save the state from the coup,” referring to Netanyahu’s claim that the indictment was a deep state attempt to push him out of office. The protesters demanded that the investigators be investigated, with some referring to the state prosecution as a “cancer” and chanting “death to leftists.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev, who notoriously referred to African asylum seekers as a “cancer,” also spoke at the rally. She prefaced her remarks with a demand. “Put down every illegal sign that tries to drag us toward incitement,” she ordered. Regev continued: “We in Likud follow the law and want the law to protect us. We believe in the rule of law and want oversight.” The crowd, it seemed, was unimpressed: they did not accede to her request.
Regev and MK Miki Zohar, the only prominent Likud lawmakers who spoke, kept their remarks relatively anodyne. “The rule of law is not above the law,” Regev said, while Zohar told the crowd that Netanyahu “gave everything he had for the success of the country.” Zohar continued: “And what does he get in return? A deceitful, distorted, and dirty investigation to bring down the prime minister!”
Netanyahu and his supporters have long accused the Israeli media, which they claim is biased by leftist sentiment, of collaborating with the police and the prosecution to push him out of office. A quick walk through the crowd made it clear that the support for Netanyahu was very strong, with some demonstrators demanding to know whether a reporter was with Channel 12 News, the country’s most-watched broadcast, which exposed a number of Netanyahu’s corruption scandals and published leaks from the police investigations. A group of protesters attacked a few Israeli journalists, as well as reporters for a Turkish news outlet.
Eli Tzipori, a veteran columnist who has become notorious in recent years for his vigorous, partisan support for Netanyahu, used a play on the Hebrew words for “media” and “liars” to refer to Israel’s press corps as the “lying junta.” He proceeded to read out the names of prominent, veteran journalists, pausing after each as the crowd responded with jeers, hisses and boos.
Daniella Weiss, a prominent leader in the religious settler movement, and Gadi Taub of the Hebrew University — both celebrities in Israel’s right-wing camp — also spoke at the rally, adding their support to that of the Likud lawmakers. Taub asserted that the investigations against Netanyahu were a “coup” and that the State Prosecutor’s Office is “left wing.”
Like Trump’s base, the speakers and the audience at the rally seemed convinced that, despite the fact that Netanyahu has been in power for over a decade, someone else is managing the country behind the scenes, working to prevent the Israeli right from fulfilling its dreams.
“They’ve bypassed your democracy. The real power in Israel is in the hands of the judges, the legal advisors, and the prosecution. It’s not yours. We have a pseudo-democracy,” said Gadi Taub.
Despite the incitement and the attacks on journalists, the demonstration was not heavily attended. Netanyahu did not appear, or even send a video message to his supporters. Nevertheless, the “coup” theory and the right’s sense of persecution has taken firm root in the right-wing discourse, where it will remain even after Netanyahu departs the political arena.
Notably absent from all the speeches was any mention of Palestinians. This, only one week after Netanyahu described Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel as an existential threat. On Tuesday night, there was a new-old enemy: the Israeli judicial system and the media.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.