Thousands march in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu amid corruption probe

#InsideIsrael

Prime minister is suspected of receiving luxury gifts and secret deal seeking favourable coverage from newspaper

Israelis take part in 'March of Shame' to protest against government corruption and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 9 December in Tel Aviv (AFP)
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Sunday 10 December 2017 22:52 UTC
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Thousands of people rallied in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night in what organisers called a "March of Shame" in protest at alleged corruption in government.

Marchers chanted "Bibi go home," using the nickname of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under police investigation on suspicion of various graft offences.

His close political ally MP David Bitan, parliamentary chairman of the ruling coalition, has also been grilled at length over separate allegations of bribery and links with organised crime during his time as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv.

Police closed the upscale Rothschild Boulevard and a number of surrounding main thoroughfares for the march, but did not give an estimate of attendance.

Haaretz newspaper put the turnout at about 10,000, sharply down from the tens of thousands who had marched a week earlier.

Last week brought an estimated 30,000 Israelis out in one of the largest protest rallies seen in Israel in recent years, Haaretz reported.

Demonstrators held signs in Hebrew reading: "Out with the corrupt!" and "Not leftist, not rightist, but honest!" Others said: "Being a pig isn't kosher," Haaretz said. The protest was billed as non-partisan.

Media commentators had predicted that fewer might take part this week, as Netanyahu's popularity was boosted by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Netanyahu's warm relationship with Trump was widely credited with influencing what he called the president's "historic" and "courageous and just decision".

The controversial recognition, however, has sparked a worldwide diplomatic backlash.

Netanyahu questioned

Netanyahu is suspected of having received luxury gifts from affluent individuals including Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who has also been questioned.

Milchan, a long-time friend of Netanyahu, reportedly sent him boxes of expensive cigars and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Netanyahu has also been questioned over a secret deal he allegedly sought for favourable coverage with the publisher of top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

Investigators suspect that the alleged pact - believed not to have been finalised - would have seen him receive favourable newspaper coverage in return for helping curb Yediot's competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu has consistently denied any wrongdoing and says he has been the target of a campaign by political opponents.