Some protesters block Tel Aviv's Ayalon highway

25th week of rallies: Protesters warn of escalation if coalition moves unilaterally

As some 100,000 demonstrate in Tel Aviv and thousands protest elsewhere, leaders maintain dark forces continue to threaten Israel’s democracy

People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis took part in rallies Saturday for the 25th week of protests against the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The main demonstration was once again centered around Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, while smaller rallies were held in other cities and locations.

Some 100,000 demonstrators took part in the Tel Aviv rally, the Crowd Solutions company said in an estimate cited by Channel 13 news, while thousands more demonstrated elsewhere.

In Tel Aviv, several dozen protests blocked the Ayalon Highway at the end of the formal protest, leading to clashes with police.

The latest demonstrations came as the government was set to move forward with limited aspects of the overhaul, after the legislation had been frozen for some three months as negotiations were held with the opposition on a potential compromise on reforms.

But with talks having recently broken down, the coalition was planning to introduce and advance a bill in the coming days to curtail the court’s power to evaluate government decisions for their reasonableness.

Israelis oppoed to the government’s planned judicial overhaul block the Ayalon Highway, Tel Aviv, June 24, 2023 (Lior Segev)

Protest organizers were threatening to escalate their actions if the government does indeed move forward with legislation unilaterally. According to Channel 12, this could include blocking access to Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem and stopping traffic on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, among other actions.

People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Speaking in Tel Aviv, former prime minister Ehud Barak said: “We are at a new stage of the struggle… the initial blitz of legislation was blocked by the protests — blocked but not defeated.

Now, learning the lessons of defeat, it is coming back to us salami-style,” he said, using the terminology overhaul critics often employ to refer to a gradual, creeping overhaul, one slice of legislation at a time.

“I call on every citizen to prepare for the test of non-violent non-compliance. It is a legitimate method for citizens for protest. It has succeeded repeatedly, in India, the US, Serbia and other places.”

In Kfar Saba, National Unity party head Benny Gantz said: “I am convinced it is not reasonableness they want, but tyranny. We will not allow that tyranny under any circumstances.”

Shikma Bressler, one of the leaders of the protests, spoke out against the multiple instances of settler violence toward Palestinians in recent days, which security chiefs censured Saturday as “nationalist terror.”

“A spate of terrible [Palestinian] terror attacks have led [Simcha] Rothman, [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben Gvir to back crimes against innocents, and the burning of villages with their residents,” she said. “We are here to make clear to anyone who may be confused on the matter — Jewish supremacy is fascism, and Jewish pogroms are pogroms… and they won’t stop where it’s ‘comfortable’ for us, they’ll seep inside. We won’t allow this to continue.”

People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

This week saw the coalition suffer a blow in its efforts to assert greater control of the crucial Judicial Selection Committee without legislation, with the election of strident overhaul opponent Amit Becher to lead the Israel Bar Association. Becher scored a clear victory over the coalition’s preferred candidate Efi Nave.

The results put Becher in a commanding position to determine which two IBA representatives will serve on the key nine-member selection committee, which selects judges to all courts in Israel, including the Supreme Court.

But Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who seeks to remake the committee to assert political control over judge selection, is unlikely to convene the panel in its current form since the coalition will only have the guaranteed support of three members of the panel.

Becher, speaking at the Tel Aviv rally, said: “Those who saw the determination of lawyers [to ensure Nave was not elected] must understand this thundering message. There is no legitimacy in Israel for changing the system of government. There is no legitimacy in Israel for harming the independence of the justice system.

People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The democratic public, the majority that is no longer silent, will fight for our democracy — fight and win big.”

The outcome of the IBA election will likely give further impetus to Levin’s crusade to pass legislation changing the composition of the committee entirely in order to take control of judicial appointments in Israel.

However, the coalition is not expected to advance the matter during the current summer session.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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