Tens of thousands rally in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu immunity

Benny Gantz, defeated in the recent Israeli election, invited the Arab parties to join the anti-Netanyahu rally despite having called them “irrelevant” before the national vote.

By AP and World Israel News

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday evening, protesting proposed legislation granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution on a series of corruption charges.

The protesters outside the city’s Museum of Art also called for protecting Israel’s democratic identity against government overreach.

The rally, titled “Defensive Shield for Democracy,” was organized by the new Blue and White opposition party a month after losing the election to Netanyahu, who was re-elected to his fourth successive term as prime minister. Party leader Benny Gantz, in a Channel 12 interview aired earlier in the day, claimed the Israeli leader was “behaving like a sultan” and that his coalition partners were like lambs.

Initially only the Labor and Meretz parties were invited to address the rally, but later in the day Gantz also included the two largest Arab parties, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am Balad. Before the election, Gantz labeled the Arab parties “irrelevant,” saying, “I don’t intend to cooperate with those who go against the State of Israel.”

Addressing the rally, Yair Lapid, the Blue and White party’s number two, compared Netanyahu’s efforts to consolidate his power to Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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“We won’t let you be Erdogan. We won’t have a Turkish dictator. We won’t allow it,” Lapid said, addressing Netanyahu.

Some demonstrators wore Ottoman-style fez hats, a reference to Turkey, and waved Israeli flags and banners calling for “keeping Israel free.”

The demonstrators say Netanyahu’s incoming coalition is pushing for legislation to shield him from prosecution and is looking to restrict the power of the Supreme Court. Netanyahu is in the final stages of forming a new coalition government.

“We are not your subjects. We won’t let you destroy the Supreme Court. You are not above the law,” Lapid told the crowds.

In February, Israel’s attorney general decided to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges, pending a final hearing.