Lapid: 'Ben Gvir a despicable racist, a complete failure'

‘A minister who hates Arabs will protect Arab children?’: 100k at Tel Aviv protests

With latest rallies focusing on Arab community killings, mayor whose municipal official was slain says: ‘Whoever appoints Ben Gvir to keep us safe, doesn’t want to keep us safe’

  • Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)
    Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)
  • Anti-government protesters in Jerusalem on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)
    Anti-government protesters in Jerusalem on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)
  • Anti-government protesters at Karkur junction in northern Israel on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)
    Anti-government protesters at Karkur junction in northern Israel on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)

Protesters demonstrated Saturday evening in Tel Aviv and across Israel for a 34th consecutive week against the government’s plans for overhauling the judicial system.

With the legislative push to weaken the judiciary on hold amid the Knesset’s summer recess, anti-government demonstrators have increasingly highlighted other grievances during recent protests, including recent incidents of discrimination against women and the sway religious parties hold on the ruling coalition.

Continuing to branch out, protesters this week also highlighted surging violent crime in Arab communities, as the government faces increased criticism over its response to record homicide numbers.

Some 100,000 people took part in the Tel Aviv rally, according to media assessments and the CrowdSolutions firm cited by Channel 13.

The main protest at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street included a keynote Arab speaker, Tira Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay. The mayor’s address comes days after Tira municipal director Abdel Rahman Kashua was shot dead in the central city.

Kashua’s killing was followed a day later by a quadruple homicide in the northern town of Abu Snan, one of the deadliest single acts of criminal violence this year.

Protesters walk past mock coffins bearing slogans denouncing crime that disproportionately affects Arab communities in Israel, during a demonstration against the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on August 26, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Blood is flowing in our streets, and what do the governments of Israel do? Dismantle the police, halt budgets that are supposed to go toward education,” al-Hay said in his address, referencing funds frozen by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for Arab municipalities.

“I have been mayor for 15 years, the Arab community has suffered from discrimination and abandonment for a long time, yet this is the worst government that has ever been.”

Tira Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay speaks at an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on august 26, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Al-Hay alleged “a decision to leave us dealing in blood. Whoever appoints [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir to keep us safe, doesn’t want to keep us safe. A minister who doesn’t want us in the country will protect us? A minister who hates Arabs will protect Arab children?”

At the protest in Jerusalem outside the President’s Residence, Warda Sada, a prominent educator and Arab activist, said: “I can’t stop asking myself, where and when did we fall asleep at the wheel? How did we get to this difficult situation?

“We have gotten to a situation in the State of Israel in which a group of complete racists is controlling the entire government… but can’t control organized crime gangs right under the police’s nose,” Sada told protesters in the capital.

Speaking at a protest at the Karkur junction in northern Israel, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called Ben Gvir a “despicable racist and a complete failure,” referring to remarks this week, in which he said that the Jews’ right to travel and live safely in the West Bank is more important than Arabs’ freedom of movement.

“You saw Ben Gvir on TV this week. You heard him. A despicable racist and a complete failure… the BDS movement has never gotten a gift like this. This guy is a gift to antisemites and haters of Israel. [He causes] public relations damage, legal damage and moral damage, and the prime minister doesn’t condemn it because he’s dependent on [him],” Lapid said.

Former Eurovision contestant Eden Alene, who is of Ethiopian descent, sang the national anthem at the start of the Tel Aviv rally, while calling attention to the controversial case of an Ethiopian-Israeli boy killed in a hit-and-run and demanding justice for his family.

Anti-government protesters in Herzliya on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)

Earlier Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon railed at the government for its treatment of the surge in violence in the Arab community and an uptick in Palestinian terror attacks.

“There is a loss of control. Every day something happens,” Liberman said at a cultural event in Beersheba, when asked about the terror attacks.

Liberman claimed that the Gaza Strip-based Hamas terror group was behind the attacks. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu grants them immunity. They know that nothing will happen to them,” he said.

Protesters lift a banner denouncing crime that disproportionately affects Arab communities in Israel, during a demonstration against the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, August 26, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“I remember Netanyahu’s speech that talked about Iran, governance, and nothing about a judicial coup. Now I see the opposite, a failure in security, a failure in governance. Look at what is happening in Arab society,” Liberman added.

Ya’alon, speaking at the same event in Beersheba, said that “as long as the government exists, terrorism will increase.”

He said that the ideology of far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Ben Gvir “will be bad for the Arabs.”

“They want to expel Arabs, Jewish supremacy… these are delusional people who are leading us to a fascist, corrupt messianic dictatorship,” Ya’alon added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

According to a Friday night poll by Channel 12 news, 42 percent of the Israeli public believed that the previous government, led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, managed better with the violent crime in the Arab community, compared with 23% who thought Netanyahu’s government managed it better.

Also according to the poll, 42% of Israelis believed the Lapid-Bennett government better managed handling terrorism, compared to 33% who believed Netanyahu’s government was handling terrorism better.

Additionally, a majority of the respondents, 69%, gave National Security Minister Ben Gvir a negative approval rating, and only 25% gave him a positive rating, according to the Channel 12 poll.

Thursday saw thousands take part in a women’s rights march in the predominantly Haredi city of Bnei Brak, organized following multiple recent acts of discrimination against women in public spaces, as well as opposition to ostensible religious coercion by elements in the Haredi-backed government.

Several speakers at the rally referred to the Haredi public and its leaders as willing partners in a push to quash civil liberties and coerce millions of secular and non-Jewish Israelis to abide by Orthodox Jewish principles.

Wednesday saw Justice Minister Yariv Levin meet with Likud MK Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday as part of an apparent effort to shore up support to advance additional bills in the government’s judicial overhaul program.

Edelstein was one of several lawmakers in the ruling party who signaled they may not back further legislation in the absence of broad support, after the coalition last month passed the first law in the planned shakeup of the judiciary.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefly fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant following the latter’s calls to freeze legislation on the judicial overhaul. In turn, widespread protests erupted, causing the government to freeze legislation and hold negotiations with the opposition at the President’s Residence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin as the Knesset deliberates a bill to cancel the judiciary’s review powers over the ‘reasonableness’ of government decisions, in Jerusalem on July 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The talks ended in June without a compromise, leading to the passage of the first overhaul bill – the “reasonableness” law, which curtails judicial review – 64-0, with the opposition boycotting the vote.

The opposition walked away from the talks, saying the coalition had acted in bad faith on a related issue: its efforts to avoid staffing and convening the committee that elects new judges, allegedly in a bid to wait until the composition of the panel could be changed in order to give the government more influence.

The meeting between Edelstein and Levin came as President Isaac Herzog issued a fresh compromise proposal for judicial reform. Wednesday’s proposal addresses the issue of judicial appointments, perhaps the most contentious in the entire overhaul package.

Herzog suggested that one of the judges on the Judicial Selection Committee be selected by the justice minister, thus giving the coalition more influence over the appointment of judges. The proposal would allow the appointed judge to be retired and wouldn’t require that the judge be a Supreme Court justice. The government has sought a majority on the panel, which would essentially give it control of all judicial appointments.

Herzog’s new proposal also calls for continuing legislation on the “reasonableness” law in order to further “soften” the law’s effects, and that all further legislation on the legal system be passed by broad consensus.

Herzog’s previous proposal for compromise said that judicial review could be exercised on Knesset legislation only if the decision was made by a majority of seven out of 11 justices. Regarding government legal advisers, the previous proposal said that while a legal adviser’s opinion would be binding, a minister could seek out private representation in cases of disagreement.

According to a Channel 12 report, it is unclear at this point whether there are new proposals regarding judicial review and the authority of government legal advisers.

Last month, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid demanded an 18-month freeze on legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary as a condition for his Yesh Atid party to return to negotiations with the coalition on judicial reforms. Netanyahu’s Likud rejected the request.

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