Thousands of Israelis protest prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition deal amid corruption probe

People protest in Tel Aviv on April 19, 2020.

Thousands of Israelis have denounced as maneuvering a power-sharing deal that leaves prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power even as he prepares to go on trial for criminal charges.

About 2,000 demonstrators took to Tel Aviv's Rabin square Saturday to protest the deal struck earlier this week between Netanyahu and his election rival, opposition leader Benny Gantz, to form a joint cabinet, Israeli media reported.

Wearing face masks and observing social distancing rules in force to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, the protesters held signs calling out Netanyahu for corruption and telling him and other corrupt politicians to "go home".

The protesters say the coalition pact gives Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases, influence over the appointment of judges and legal officials and is meant to rescue him from his legal troubles.

Addressing the rally, former head of Israel's internal spy service Shin Bet Carmi Gilon accused Netanyahu of destroying Israel's Knesset or parliament. 

A similar protest was held in the northern town of Kiryat Tivon, a suburb of Haifa. Last Sunday, a protest rally had a turnout of thousands and received worldwide coverage.
The power-sharing deal between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and former military chief Gantz’s Blue and White alliance was clinched on Monday, averting what would have been a fourth consecutive election in the occupied territories in just over a year.

According to a joint statement, the coalition is to serve as an “emergency” regime for an initial six months, during which laws unrelated to a coronavirus outbreak could not be introduced.

Netanyahu and Gantz had tried multiple times in recent months to form cabinet, but neither could gain the necessary support from Israel's 120-seat Knesset.

The three-year deal would allow Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, to remain in office for the duration of his upcoming trial on corruption charges due to begin on May 24.

Netanyahu, in power consecutively for the past 11 years, is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Under the coalition pact, Netanyahu will be prime minister for 18 months, after which Gantz will replace him.