Opposition rallies to 'save' Israel from Netanyahu

Israeli demonstrators hold flags and banners during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 25, 2019 (AFP Photo/JACK GUEZ)

Tel Aviv (AFP) - Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday night to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emerging coalition agreements, which opposition leaders said would constitute the end of the country's democracy.

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

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

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.

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

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

Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party said that "we're here to fight for our country".

"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.

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 Saturday, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman stressed that he would only enter a coalition committed to passing his proposed draft law.

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