TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — More than 2,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday, demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempts to form an “emergency” government with his chief rival and accusing him of using the coronavirus crisis to escape prosecution on corruption charges.
Demonstrators wore face masks and largely kept their distance from one another, in line with social-distancing rules, as speakers criticized Netanyahu's possible partnership with rival Benny Gantz. Some held black flags, which have become the symbol of their campaign in recent weeks.
Gantz, who during three bitter election campaigns over the past year vowed never to sit in a government with Netanyahu due to his legal problems, announced last month that he had accepted the prime minister's suggestion to form an “emergency” government to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The announcement infuriated many of Gantz's supporters and caused his Blue and White party to fracture.
“You don't fight corruption from within. If you're inside, you're part of it,” said Yair Lapid, Gantz's former political partner, who withdrew from the Blue and White alliance last month.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of justice and accepting bribes. He denies the charges and says he is the victim of a hostile media and aggressive police and prosecutors.
Protesters on Sunday accused Netanyahu of exploiting the crisis to evade his looming trial and cement his lengthy rule.
Citing the pandemic, Netanyahu's hand-picked justice minister delayed the prime minister's trial just two days before it was to begin until late May.
Since then, Netanyahu's coalition talks with Gantz have reportedly stalled due to demands by the prime minister to gain more control over judicial appointments and assurances that he can remain in office even if he gives up the prime minister's job in a proposed power-sharing arrangement with Gantz. Under Israeli law, public officials, with the exception of the prime minister, must resign if charged with a crime.
Demonstrators repeatedly chanted “democracy” and accused the prime minister of endangering the country’s democratic institutions. “Corona equals virus in the service of a dictator," said one sign.