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Opposition rallies to 'save' democratic Israel from Netanyahu

There is speculation that coalition members may be forced to help weaken judiciary, which is seeking to put Netanyahu on trial
Israeli opposition parties' supporters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday in Tel Aviv (AFP)

Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emerging coalition agreements, which opposition leaders say may lead to the end of the country's democracy.

Netanyahu, who has until Wednesday night to form a new coalition following the 9 April elections, has so far failed to accommodate the clashing demands of his future government partners, primarily over the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the military.

While no agreements have been presented thus far, there was speculation that coalition members would be forced to agree to measures that would weaken the judiciary, which is seeking to put Netanyahu on trial, AFP reported.

Netanyahu has until October to face a pre-trial hearing after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February his intention to indict the premier on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Thousands of people on Saturday night waved Israeli flags and signs with slogans such as "One people, one law" and "Erdogan is already here", a reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics accuse of manipulating the political and legal system of his country for his own benefit.

"We won't let you turn democratic Israel into the private court of a royal family or a sultanate," said Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White alliance, which is set to be the largest opposition party.

"Israel is the fulfillment of a dream, but I'm here to say loud and clear what we all feel, that the dream is falling apart. There are those who are attempting to replace the people's rule with the rule of a single man and to enslave an entire nation to the interests of one man," Gantz said, as reported by Haaretz.

"We won't have a Turkish dictator," said Yair Lapid, also of Blue and White.

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"You're not above the law, we won't let you be a dictator."

Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party said: "there is no king in Israel, we are the state, not Netanyahu".

"Netanyahu is going to crush the supreme court to prevent justice from taking its course with a fugitive criminal," she said, as protesters chanted "Bibi go home!"

Organisers said tens of thousands of people participated in the event, which took place in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Police estimated fewer than ten thousand protesters were present, while Haaretz said “tens of thousands” protested.

If Netanyahu fails to present a coalition by Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin could assign the mission to another member of parliament.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman stressed that he would only enter a coalition committed to passing his proposed draft law, which would end the exemption for ultra-Orthodox men.

While having recommended that Netanyahu form the coalition, Lieberman warned that if his demands were not met, "we'll go to re-elections".