Tens of thousands of Israelis have rallied in Tel Aviv to protest against a looming coalition agreement to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and weaken the powers of the Supreme Court.
In a rare show of unity on Saturday, nearly all the opposition parties joined civil rights groups protesting under the banner “defensive shield for democracy.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party came top in the April 9 election, but he has struggled to cobble together a coalition of right-wing, ultra-nationalist and religious parties ahead of a Wednesday deadline.
While no coalition agreement has been made, there is speculation that the incoming government will pass legislation to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and limit the powers of the Supreme Court to overturn laws protecting him.
In exchange for support, Netanyahu may push forward with full or partial annexation of the West Bank from Palestinians in a move critics say would deal a death blow to Israeli democracy and usher in apartheid.
Netanyahu, who has repeatedly railed against what he calls the “left-wing” Supreme Court, has until October to face a pretrial hearing after Israel’s attorney general in February recommended charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
‘We won’t let you be Erdogan’
Thousands of protesters, some wearing Ottoman-style fez hats, accused Netanyahu of trying to manipulate the legal and political system for his own personal benefit, similar to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We won’t let you turn democratic Israel into the private court of a royal family or a sultanate,” said Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White alliance, the largest opposition party.
“We won’t let you be Erdogan. We won’t have a Turkish dictator,” said Yair Lapid, also of Blue and White. “You’re not above the law, we won’t let you be a dictator.”
The left-wing Meretz, the Labor Party and Ayman Odeh of the Arab-majority faction Hadash-Ta’al also attended the protest.
The opposition parties said the protests were the first of many planned against the prime minister.
If Netanyahu cannot form a coalition by Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin can assign the task to another member of parliament.
Coalition talks reached an impasse this week over the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the military.
cw/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)