After outcry over non-invite, Arab parties to join TLV rally against PM immunity
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Tens of thousands expected at 8.30 outside Tel Aviv Museum

After outcry over non-invite, Arab parties to join TLV rally against PM immunity

Hadash-Ta’al head to address Saturday night ‘save democracy’ protest; Ra’am-Balad members to attend following uproar over Blue and White organizers’ failure to include them

Arab MKs from the Hadash-Ta'al party hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Arab MKs from the Hadash-Ta'al party hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both Arab-Israeli political parties announced they will participate in the expected mass rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv to protest against legislative attempts granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and radically limiting the powers of the Supreme Court. This followed growing uproar by left-wing lawmakers over the Blue and White party’s alleged failure to include non-Jewish representatives among the speakers at the opposition’s demonstration.

“I will speak this evening at the demonstration,” wrote Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab-majority faction Hadash-Ta’al, on Twitter.

“The struggle against Netanyahu’s attempts to destroy the democratic space is a common struggle for all the democratic forces. There cannot be an alternative to a corrupt and destructive government without the broad cooperation of all citizens — Jews and Arabs. Only with this cooperation will we be able to replace the government, only in this manner can we present an alternative to its destructive policy,” the Arab-Israeli lawmaker said.

Until Odeh’s announcement, the rally primarily organized by the likely opposition’s largest party — Blue and White — was only slated to include two other parties, Labor and Meretz, leaving out MKs from Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad.

Referring to calls she led the charge to include Arab-Israeli lawmakers at the rally, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg tweeted Saturday afternoon that “our hard work paid off.”

Mtanes Shihadeh (center), Ra’am-Balad’s number two candidate, and Mansour Abbas (right), the party’s number one candidate, at a press conference on March 28, 2019. (Courtesy of Ra’am-Balad)

The left-wing MK said that “representatives from *all* of the opposition will stand on one stage this evening and demand the rejection of the corrupt deal that would shatter Israeli democracy in exchange for immunity for suspected bribery.”

While Zandberg asserted that all parties would be included, Ra’am-Balad chairman Mansour Abbas said he personally would not be joining. The hardline MK asserted that Arab-Israelis “are in no one’s pocked” and criticized Odeh for joining the other likely opposition parties on stage.

The announcements came hours after Hadash-Ta’al’s Ofer Kassif issued a fiery statement blasting Blue and White for “choosing to attack the Arab public instead of cooperating with it and its representatives in order to preserve democracy.”

Kassif asserted that the Arab-Israeli parties had never been asked to take part in organizing the rally along with Blue and White, Labor and Meretz. He claimed that Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah had asked Odeh to speak, but by the time the latter responded, the former said it was too late for him to be included.

For their part, Blue and White organizers have claimed that Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad representatives dragged their feet as long as they could rather than immediately respond to their invitations to join.

But the objections to the limited representation at the rally came from within Blue and White as well.

Head of the Blue White party Benny Gantz (2L) and his top allies Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid greet supporters following the release of exit polls at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“An Arab-free demonstration is a capitulation to racism and incitement from the right,” Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich wrote on Twitter. “What have you achieved? Will right-wing protesters come in droves because you’ve pushed Arabs away? A moral and political mistake.”

Tens of thousands of people are expected to demonstrate at the rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv under the banner “Stopping the Immunity Law — A Defensive Shield for Democracy.”

The rally will start at 8:30 p.m. at the plaza outside the Tel Aviv Museum. Parties are making considerable efforts to bring out protesters, with paid advertising and a social media campaign, and are planning to bus in activists from across the country.

The protest comes amid reported plans by Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu to pass legislation granting the premier immunity in multiple corruption cases — and additional legislation weakening the High Court of Justice so that it won’t have the power to overturn the laws protecting him.

File: Israelis protest against government corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Pending a hearing, Netanyahu is facing indictment for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them.

“We will not allow Netanyahu to drag Israel to dangerous Turkey-style legislation, where the ruler is above the law,” the demonstration’s Facebook page declared.

The opposition is hoping to create public pressure on MKs from Likud and other prospective coalition parties who they believe are uneasy with supporting such legislation, or who have in the past stated that they would oppose such a move.

With Netanyahu currently struggling to form a 61-member majority coalition out of the 120 MKs, any single vote against an immunity push could be decisive.

The immunity push has been met with harsh criticism and great alarm by justice officials, top attorneys, retired judges, and former Likud officials.

On Friday Channel 13 news quoted unnamed Supreme Court justices as saying the court could take “extreme steps” in order to block legislative proposals to curtail the court’s powers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on May 19, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/ Various Sources/ AFP)

The passage of such an “override clause” would mark what has been called the greatest constitutional change in Israeli history, with vast potential impact on the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy, denying the courts the capacity to protect Israeli minorities and uphold core human rights. It would also, not incidentally, mean the court could not reverse Knesset-approved immunity for Netanyahu.

A spokesperson for the courts told Channel 13 that if the comments were made, they represented the view only of the individual or individuals who made them.

Netanyahu’s Likud party denied the prime minister was seeking “to destroy” the court.

“It is hard to believe that anyone takes seriously the idea the prime minister wants to destroy the Supreme Court,” the party was quoted saying in response.

“There is a huge difference between reasonable reforms to return the balance [between the legislative and judicial branches] and empty claims about an intention to destroy one of the three foundational authorities of democracy,” it said.

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