By Carlos Ballesteros
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.
This article (Will Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu Be Indicted? 20,000 Protesters in Tel Aviv Rally Against Government Corruption) was originally published on Newsweek and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.
Continues from The Independent…
Israeli police question Benjamin Netanyahu ally as tens of thousands flood streets in anti-corruption protest
David Bitan behind legislative push seen as aiding beleaguered Prime Minister
By Samuel Osborne
Israeli police have questioned a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges a day after tens of thousands of Israelis poured onto the streets of Tel Aviv for an anti-corruption rally calling on the Prime Minister to resign.
Coalition whip David Bitan was interrogated in relation to accusations he promoted the interests of criminals in return for debt relief while he was a municipal politician before being elected to parliament.
Mr Bitan is the driving force behind a legislation push seen as aiding the beleaguered Mr Netanyahu, who faces multiple corruption accusations.
His so-called “recommendations bill” would end the police’s current practice of recommending to the state prosecution office whether to indict suspects, on completing their investigations.
It also aims to stem leaks from the investigations themselves, stating that no police recommendations be made public and penalising those found leaking to the media.
Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party was set to bring the bill for a parliamentary vote on Monday, but appears to be short on numbers and will likely delay it.
Their hope is to move the bill forward quickly so it will also apply to investigations currently taking place regarding Mr Netanyahu.
The Prime Minister has been questioned in two cases and police say they suspect him of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Police have already grilled him six times regarding gifts he received from Hollywood and business figures. In a separate probe he has also been asked about secret talks with the publisher of a major Israeli newspaper in which Mr Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for reining in a free pro-Netanyahu daily. One of his closest former aides has become a state’s witness against him.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and calls the accusations a witchhunt orchestrated by a hostile media.
Another investigation has engulfed his close associates and dominated news in Israel. The investigation relates to a possible conflict of interest involving a $2bn (£1.5bn) purchase of German submarines.
Mr Netanyahu’s personal attorney, who is also his cousin, represented the German firm involved and is suspected of trading his influence over the Prime Minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. A former Cabinet minister and top former navy and security officials have been questioned by police. Mr Netanyahu has yet to be named a suspect in that probe.
Mr Bitan’s questioning comes a day after tens of thousands of Israelis poured into the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night for an anti-corruption rally calling on Mr Netanyahu to resign. It was one of the largest demonstrations yet against his lengthy rule.
“I think the time has come to change the government. The government is corrupt. We’re sick of the corrupt,” said protester Avi Elmozlinu.
Organisers are hoping the grassroots movement picks up steam and becomes a regular Saturday night ritual which eventually forces Mr Netanyahu from power.
This article (Israeli police question Benjamin Netanyahu ally as tens of thousands flood streets in anti-corruption protest) was originally published on The Independent and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.