YERUSHALAYIM - Thousands of people were expected at a mass rally in support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv Wednesday night. The rally is being organized by coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud), who has called on Likud activists from around the country to gather in support of “our prime minister, who is being persecuted by the media and the opposition.”
Among MKs and ministers, the rally is being seen by Likud insiders as a test of loyalty to Netanyahu, Maariv quoted Likud sources as saying. Among those who have said they will attend are Likud ministers Tzachi Hanegbi, Miri Regev, Ayoub Kara and Ofir Akounis, as well as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Avi Dichter. Among those who will be no-shows are ministers Yariv Levin, Gilad Erdan and Gila Gamliel, who are abroad — “conveniently or otherwise,” the sources told Maariv. It is not clear if Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz will show up, the sources said.
Earlier this week, Bitan castigated MKs and ministers who have failed to show public support for Netanyahu in the wake of the media frenzy over the possibility of the prime minister’s being indicted on corruption charges. Most Likud MKs and ministers seem to prefer silence over support for Netanyahu, Bitan said in an interview, and when the alleged scandals Netanyahu is being implicated in blow over — as they surely will — those MKs and ministers “are going to pay,” Bitan said in an interview Sunday. “There are ministers who are interested in nothing other than booting Netanyahu out of office and taking his place,” Bitan accused without naming any specific individuals. “If they can’t defend us, they need to step down.” On Sunday, Netanyahu did not directly discuss the situation at the weekly Cabinet meeting, but he thanked “those who gave interviews supporting me.”
Bitan’s comments and Wednesday’s rally come in the wake of the signing of a deal to turn state’s evidence by Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff Ari Harow. Harow is expected to give testimony in the coming days on one or both of two investigations by police against Netanyahu: Case 1000, in which Netanyahu was accused of accepting extravagant gifts from millionaire Arnon Milchin, and Case 2000, in which the prime minister allegedly leaned on the publishers of Yisrael Hayom to limit distribution of their free newspaper in order to benefit from better coverage in rival newspaper Yediot Achronot. The signing of such a deal is usually an indication that solid testimony is being offered, and reports over the weekend said that Harow would provide police with evidence of influence peddling by Netanyahu.
However, sources said that Harow’s testimony may not be the sword that fells the prime minister. Speaking to the NRG news site, the sources said that Harow “is no Shula Zaken,” referring to the aide whose testimony was key to the conviction of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges. “Harow was certainly involved in the doings of Case 2000, but the state attorney will have a very hard time proving corruption, because give and take with the media is part of the daily fare of politicians in Israel. Netanyahu did not invent this.” In any event, the sources said, it would likely take as long as a year for the state attorney to decide whether or not to recommend Netanyahu be indicted.