Tens of thousands of Israelis rally against Netanyahu

(NVO) – Tens of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday (March 7) calling for the ouster of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the final stretch before a March 17 national election.

Police gave no official figures, but Israeli media said about 30,000 people attended the rally, which was held under the banner “Israel wants a change.”

Opinion polls show Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud running neck-and-neck with rival Isaac Herzog, head of the centre-left Zionist Union, linked to the Labour party.

Netanyahu, seeking a fourth term in office, is seen as having a slight advantage of more parliamentary allies in to form a coalition government. Latest polls have both Zionist Union and Likud winning 23 of the Knesset’s seats.

Netanyahu has focused his campaign on security issues and the Iranian nuclear programme and the demonstration organizers appeared to be challenging him on his home turf by featuring former Mossad chief Meir Dagan as the headline speaker.

U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, who seek a state in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, broke down in April and Israel has drawn international criticism for expanding its settlements in some of those territories.

Israel and the West suspect Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation Tehran denies.

U.S.-led international talks are underway to persuade Iran to restrain its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Netanyahu drew strong criticism from the Obama administration and in Israel for a speech he gave at the U.S. Congress on Tuesday where he lambasted the emerging deal. His opponents said he had damaged Israel’s strategic alliance with Washington.