Protesters took to the streets and blocked roads at dozens of sites across the country on Tuesday, on a “Day of Resistance” meant to shut vital sectors of the nation in order to sound the alarm against the government’s attempts to shackle the judiciary.
Protest organizers were ramping up their efforts to pressure the government and slow down legislation — set to become law next week — that will bar courts from using the judicial test of reasonableness test to gauge government decisions.
In Tel Aviv, protesters gathered at sites around the city for a march on a number of locations including the headquarters of the Histadrut labor federation and the Kaplan Street intersection, freshly renamed “Democracy Square.”
Protesters from the Brothers and Sisters in Arms reservist protest group blocked the entrance to the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, with some having put plastic tubing on their arms to make it harder for law enforcement to remove them.
Other demonstrators blocked the entrance to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, then entered the building and protested inside. Critics of the overhaul charge the government’s contentious plan will cause massive economic damage to the country.
Demonstrators also held a protest convoy on Tel Aviv’s main highway, causing a buildup of heavy traffic in the area.
In Kiryat Ono, protesters rallied outside the home of Histadrut labor federation chief Arnon Bar-David, to pressure him to take more action. Bar-David has so far resisted calls from protest leaders to order a strike of the powerful union over the “reasonableness” bill.
קריית אונו: אצל יו"ר ההסתדרות ארנון בר דוד
— Or-ly Barlev ~ אור-לי ברלב (@orlybarlev) July 14, 2023
At a protest in Ra’anana, a protester was seriously injured when she was hit by a car while demonstrating on Route 531. The hospital where she was being treated later said her condition was stable, but she was not out of danger.
Police said the incident was a traffic accident rather than an intentional ramming. The driver was detained for questioning.
Protesters also blocked Route 2, the key coastal highway, near Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, north of Caesarea, before being cleared away by police. Police said two of the protesters were arrested for public order offenses. According to media reports, some demonstrators set off smoke flares.
Protesters also briefly blocked Route 4 at Binyamina Junction, running parallel to Route 2, before police returned them to the side of the road.
Police said that as of 12 p.m., 19 protesters had been arrested during Tuesday’s demonstrations for suspected violations of public order. Fourteen suspects were arrested in the central region of the country, three in the Tel Aviv area and two in the coastal region.
Officers also arrested a motorcycle driver in Tel Aviv on suspicion of assaulting a protester at the coastal city’s Pil intersection.
The Brothers and Sisters in Arms group hung massive banners overnight at a number of key sites across the country.
One was hung on a statue of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, at the entrance to the coastal city of Herzliya reading, “This is not what I intended.” Another at the Hemed interchange read, “[Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant is destroying the people’s army,” referring to the warnings from reservists that they will not volunteer for service if overhaul legislation is unilaterally pushed through the Knesset.
Protesters were planning to mass at train stations in Tel Aviv and around the country Tuesday afternoon, disrupting commutes to pile pressure on the government.
The decision to concentrate on train stations marks a shift in tactics after months of actions mostly designed to block roads. It comes a week after members of the government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that chaos on Israel’s streets sown by the activists disrupted emergency services and medical care, though there was little evidence of that.
At 4:30 p.m., according to organizers, protesters will crowd train platforms in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Binyamina, Lod and Herzliya. More rallies are planned for the evening in Haifa, near Hadera and in Beersheba, and the night will be capped with a large rally slated for Kaplan Street in central Tel Aviv, which has been the locus of previous protest actions.
Police have struggled to navigate between policies calling for proportional force to keep largely nonviolent protesters in line and demands by hardline national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the force, that cops take a more aggressive approach to protesters blocking roads or other access points.
During rallies a week ago, cops managed to mostly keep protesters from entering and blocking the Ayalon Highway but were also criticized for what appeared to be heavy-handed tactics against activists.
כביש 2 נחסם מעגן מיכאל. צילום: אלון בנקי. צאו להתנגד לדיקטטורה! ???????????? pic.twitter.com/jp0b9H3v4Z
— קומי ישראל ????????????️???????? (@kumiiisrael) July 18, 2023
Also Tuesday, top business leaders announced they will set up a protest tent in Jerusalem on Thursday with the aim of stopping the “reasonableness” bill from being passed into law.
“Unilateral legislation will cause the destruction of the economy and the country. Changes are made through negotiations,” the so-called Business Forum said in a statement.
“We call for the reaching of agreements and preventing irreversible destruction to Israel’s economy,” the organization said.
The group includes owners of banks, hotels, shopping malls and fashion retail chains.
The day of protests comes as the government has plowed ahead with legislation that will do away with the reasonableness test, part of a wide-reaching package of changes to the judiciary that critics say will remove critical fetters on government power and weaken the Supreme Court.
Organizers said Tuesday’s protests “will start an unprecedented week of civil resistance and disobedience to the judicial overhaul.”
Adding to pressure on the government have been mounting warnings from Israel Defense Force reservists — including pilots and members of elite commando units — that they would stop showing up for duty if the legislation goes ahead.
On Friday, they were joined by the Israeli Medical Association, which warned that hospitals and doctors could strike in opposition to the reasonableness bill.
Protesters held weekly “days of resistance” until late March, when the government froze the legislative process in order to give compromise talks with the opposition a try. Last month, after talks broke down, the government said it would push ahead with elements of the judicial overhaul without seeking consensus, sending protesters back into the streets.
On Saturday, some 150,000 people rallied in central Tel Aviv, in what organizers said was a prelude to Tuesday’s protests.
Speaking at the rally, Dan Meridor, a former lawmaker in the ruling Likud party who once served as justice minister, told the crowd that the government wanted to remake the entire nation.
“Instead of Zionist, racist. Instead of gatekeepers, political appointments. The danger is here and now. We will struggle until we win,” he told protesters standing above a giant “Biden save us” scrawled on the road. Like last week, protests are planned for outside the US Embassy’s Tel Aviv branch Tuesday evening.
בלי דמוקרטיה — אין בורסה, אין כלכלה, אין הייטק ואין דירוג אשראי. המחאה כובשת כעת את שוקי ההון pic.twitter.com/k3CW0gA1c4
— Dan Adin דן עדין (@adin_dan) July 18, 2023
On Monday, though, the US president appeared to end his informal boycott of Netanyahu, with the administration announcing that the two would meet in the US in the fall, though not necessarily at the White House.
Biden and members of his administration have expressed concerns over the legislative blitz and the lack of consensus, and the overhaul is expected to come up when President Isaac Herzog meets with Biden in the Oval Office later Tuesday.
Before taking off Monday night, Herzog, who had hosted the failed compromise talks, urged the sides back to the table.
“It is possible to arrive at reasonable formulas — both on the subject of reasonableness and on other matters,” he said. “It simply requires effort, it requires giving up a little, it requires entering the room, it doesn’t have to be in the President’s Residence, it can also be behind the scenes in the Knesset. Make an effort; the price is too great.”
Knesset Constitution Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman — an architect of the government’s judicial overhaul — said Sunday that he intends to complete all committee activity on the bill this week, sending it to the Knesset plenum for its final readings next week. The legislation passed its first reading last week.
Members of the opposition are trying to slow down the passage of the legislation, which seeks to prevent courts from using the test of “reasonableness” in evaluating decisions made by the government or elected officials.
Opposition members of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee have asked Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik to allow them more time to submit objections to the so-called reasonableness bill, which would push off the vote in the committee to approve the contentious measure for its final plenum readings.
On Monday, Benny Gantz, head of the opposition National Unity party, slammed the coalition for seeking to rush the legislation through the Knesset in the next two weeks.
Gantz said that instead of convening ministers to address the security, diplomatic and economic challenges facing the State of Israel, “Netanyahu will continue to surrender to extremists.”
“On the eve of Tisha B’Av, Netanyahu again chooses to tear apart the nation. It’s still not too late to stop,” added Gantz, referring to the fast day that mourns the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, which will begin the evening of Wednesday, July 26, and carry through Thursday, July 27.
Critics say the legislation is part of the government’s attempt to shield itself and its decisions from judicial review, enabling it to appoint unqualified or corrupt officials and oust technocrats it has deemed disloyal. Supporters of the move say it is necessary to correct the overreaching of unelected judges interfering with the decisions of a democratically elected government.