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Israeli press review: Netanyahu calls on supporters to protest against attorney general

Former Mossad chief said Iran was different from Syria and Iraq, and war with 'a single bomb' will not draw a line on Tehran's nuclear ambitions
People walk past an electoral billboard for Israel's Likud party bearing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, 12 March (AFP)

Netanyahu call supporters to protest

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his supporters to protest in front of the Ministry of Justice headquarters in east Jerusalem, saying Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had obstructed his plans to reopen Israel’s economy.

He made his comments on Sunday during a visit to restaurants in Jerusalem, as the country eased its tight Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on retail businesses. 

Netanyahu and his finance minister, Israel Katz, have blamed Mandelblit for holding up their financial relief packages as the country is still campaigning for an election on 23 March, the fourth in two years.

Mandelblit has to approve these plan before they come into effect.

The prime minister told one supporter: "We’ve been pushing them [the Justice Ministry]. Now the finance minister is acting... you come with all your friends, you come to the Justice Ministry, come to Salah al-Din Street,” referring to the ministry’s street address in east Jerusalem, according to Haaretz.

Officials at the ministry raised concerns about Netanyahu's remarks, saying that it reminded them of former US President Donald Trump's call for his supporters to break into the Capital Hill, Ynet reported.

In January some Israelis anticipated a scenario similar to the Congress storming, which they feared could be replicated in Israel if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the upcoming March legislative election.

“It’s shocking, but we’ve gotten used to everything,” an Israeli official said of Netanyahu's statement.

Charity founder and Israel Prize laureate scandal

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the co-founder and chairman of the charity group Zaka, an Israel Prize laureate, was accused on Thursday of sexual assault, rape, and abuse according to Haaretz, leading him to lose his position in Zaka and the state-awarded honour.

Israeli police had launched an investigation into the accusations filed by six people, both men and women, against Meshi-Zahav, some of whom were minors at the time of the alleged sexual assaults.

Haaretz's investigation reported on six cases that took place in the past four decades, the earliest in 1983 and the latest in 2011.

Meshi-Zahav is a well-known figure in the ultra-Orthodox community and his group Zaka, founded in 1989, organises volunteering teams to assist Israel in emergency events and disasters at home and abroad.

He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize’s lifetime achievement award earlier this month, Times of Israel reported.

Merav Michaeli, the head of the Labor Party, called for Meshi-Zahav  to be stripped of the Israel Prize award following the Haaretz report on Thursday. 

Meshi-Zahav stepped down as chairman of Zaka on Friday and gave up the award after numerous NGOs and Knesset members called for its revocation.

Haaretz said that Meshi-Zahav used his position and status as head of Zaka to carry out sexual assaults. Israel Police have opened an investigation into one of the cases, which was eventually closed for lack of evidence in 2014.

Zaka said in a statement “we wish for [Meshi-Zahav] that his innocence be proven”.

"Still, it is important for us to keep the names and reputations of the thousands of Zaka volunteers away from this incident, and to clarify that they have nothing to do with it,” the charity added, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israel 'weak' on Iran, says former Mossad chief

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said on Thursday that Israel had formed a perception since 2003 that negotiations and talks were the only way for a lasting deal on the Iran nuclear programme.

Pardo was talking at the Strategy and National Security Conference, organised by the Haaretz newspaper. 

He said that Iran was different from Syria and Iraq, and that war with “a single bomb” would not draw a line on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

His statements come amid a shift in US foreign policy to reach a new deal with Iran that limits the size and production capacity of its nuclear programme. 

Israeli officials have warned Iran in recent weeks that Israel is prepared and alert for military strikes against the Islamic Republic.

Pardo, who was Mossad’s chief from January 2011 to January 2016, said that Israel and the US had “a wonderful cooperation [to] combat Iran,” in the years of 2012 and 2013.

He said that Israel should not talk about a military option.

"If you speak, then act. The words add nothing. Everyone knows what weapons and capabilities Israel has, including the Iranians.

"Whoever speaks and does not attack, expresses weakness,” Pardo said, adding that Israel is being viewed as “weak” in the eyes of Iran’s allies in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.