Organizers said that 450,000 people demonstrated at more than 150 locations throughout the country, while others estimated somewhat lower numbers of participants.
By Erin Viner
The Saturday night nationwide rallies mark the 13th consecutive week of vocal dissent against plans by proposed judicial overhaul by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite a current halt in the legislation to permit the conducting of ongoing compromise negations by political factions mediated by Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
“Netanyahu’s attempt to put the protesters to sleep failed,” stated the Resistance against Dictatorship umbrella movement, adding “We are four weeks from the passing of the dictatorship laws. Anyone who read the statements from the Justice Minister (Yariv Levin) and other officials this week understands that unfortunately they do not want to reach broad agreements, but only want to gain time and put the protests to sleep.”
Organizers have vowed to continue to take to the nation’s streets “until democracy in the State of Israel has been guaranteed” with the complete removal of the disputed legislation as well as the deal Netanyahu made to allow National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to form a new National Guard.
“We are on our guard. The danger has not passed,” Opposition leader Yair Lapid posted on Twitter alongside photographs of his participation at the rallies.
A wide array of other prominent figures at the event in the coastal city included the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz, former Media Advisor Yossi Levy, Major General (Ret.) Amos Malka and CEO of The Association of Ethiopian Jews CEO Rina Eileen-Gorlik. Additionally, the Premier’s cousin Professor Nathan Netanyahu – who is the son of the late Chief Justice Shoshana Netanyahu – warned, “If you use delay as an excuse to push through harmful legislation, you will be judged by history.”
In Jerusalem, both of the Prime Minister’s residences were surrounded by protestors. Others protested outside the home of Justice Minister Levin in Modi’in.
During an address at the Mediterranean port city of Ashdod, Israel’s sixth largest, Dr. Eliad Shraga of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel insisted that protestors will never waiver from their liberal democratic values, standard of human rights nor their demand for the proper structure of the government system.
There were reports of increasingly harsh tactics utilized by police, including use of a system that blasts deafeningly loud sounds to disperse protesters in Tel Aviv. Video captured a police officer on horseback hitting a young female protester near the Yehudit Bridge, while water cannons were used to clear demonstrators from obstructing the Ayalon Highway.
19 people were arrested during the protests on suspicion of various offenses including rioting and possession of assault weapons, said police.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is himself on trial on corruption charges which he denies, had dismissed the protests as refusal by leftist adversaries to accept the results of the 1 November’s election which resulted in one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. He has ardently defended the judicial overhaul.
In his weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, Netanyahu stated, “We are currently in a process of dialogue with the goal of reaching broad consensus. I would like to remind you all that before the elections many of the current opposition leaders supported substantive changes in the judicial system. Therefore, there is a basis here for agreements which should be possible to reach with goodwill in genuine dialogue.”
He went on to warn against perceived perceptions among enemies that the nation’s domestic turmoil has in any way weakened the country’s resilience.
“We are exacting a high price from the regimes that support terrorism, beyond Israel’s borders. I suggest that our enemies not err. Israel’s internal debate will not detract one iota from our determination, strength and ability to act against our enemies on all fronts, wherever and whenever necessary,” he stressed.
The nation has been gripped by weekly and increasingly raucous nationwide demonstrations following the 4 January 2023 announcement that the Netanyahu coalition – which took office only days before on 29 December 2022 – of a sweeping “reform of governance” to limit Supreme Court rulings against government moves or Knesset laws, while increasing politicians’ input over nominations to the bench.
Israel’s right-wing 37th government, an alliance between the Premier’s Likud party with several smaller religious and hard-right nationalist factions, asserts it holds the mandate for changes, deemed necessary to curb overreach by activist judges and restore balance between the legislative, executive and judiciary.
The court’s defenders say it plays a vital role in holding the government to account in a country that has no formal constitution, and that the government’s overhaul would weaken the courts, endanger civil liberties and harm the economy. The proposal has drawn fierce condemnation from Opposition Members of Knesset (MKs), legal officials, military reservists and advocacy groups – further broadening already deep political divisions in Israeli society.