Anti-overhaul demonstrators tie themselves to pole outside Likud minister’s home

Protest by Nir Barkat’s house in Jerusalem comes ahead of plenum votes on next planks in government’s controversial judicial shakeup plan, including override clause

Anti-government protesters outside Economy Minister Nir Barkat's home in Jerusalem on February 22, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Anti-government protesters outside Economy Minister Nir Barkat's home in Jerusalem on February 22, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Activists opposed to government efforts to radically transform the judicial system demonstrated Wednesday morning outside the home of Economy Minister Nir Barkat, ahead of votes later in the day on several controversial elements of the coalition’s platform.

Four of the demonstrators tied themselves to a pole outside Barkat’s house in Jerusalem, partially blocking the sidewalk between the street and driveway, as several others protested with flags and signs.

The four were briefly detained by police before being released, according to the Haaretz daily. There was no immediate confirmation from police.

The protesters later said their aim was to tell Barkat “that history will judge those who are silent, conform and vote for a coup that destroyed democracy, tore apart the nation and crashed the economy.”

Barkat is one of several senior members in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party being targeted by protesters, as they seek to apply pressure on supporters of the judicial shakeup.

Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor and venture capitalist, last week met with business leaders concerned over economic fallout from the overhaul.

Economy Minister Nir Barkat arrives for a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The demonstration outside Barkat’s home came after activists staged similar protests on Monday before the first plenum votes on the far-reaching changes to the judiciary, drawing condemnations for blocking Likud lawmaker Tally Gotliv in her apartment, preventing her from taking her special needs daughter to her care service.

The protest Wednesday was staged before the Knesset was due to hold initial votes on a trio of contentious bills, including a proposal that would allow lawmakers to preemptively shield laws from review by the country’s top court.

The second bill is aimed at preventing the High Court of Justice from nixing Shas party chief Aryeh Deri’s return as a minister by amending the existing Basic Law: Government to insert a clause placing ministerial appointments outside the purview of the court system

Deri, who was appointed as health and interior minister in the new government, was barred from holding office in a bombshell High Court ruling last month. Justices ruled that giving the Shas chief a cabinet post was “unreasonable in the extreme” due to his past criminal convictions — including one last year for tax offenses — and because he had falsely convinced a judge last year that he was permanently leaving political life during talks on his plea bargain.

The final bill would move the Police Internal Investigations Department from the State Prosecutor’s Office to the direct authority of the justice minister. The proposal is aimed at reducing the State Prosecutor’s Office’s involvement in investigations into law enforcement, amid accusations by coalition lawmakers of politically motivated probes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) during the swearing in ceremony of the new government, at the Knesset, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s coalition has prioritized the judicial overhaul, halting most other bills as it puts its focus on passing the various pieces of legislation that make it up, chiefly reforming the Judicial Selection Committee to guarantee absolute control for the ruling coalition and allowing the Knesset to overrule High Court rulings with a bare 61-seat majority.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, these proposals will deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting near total, unchecked power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals and private companies.

Netanyahu — whom critics warn stands to benefit directly from the overhaul due to his ongoing corruption trial — has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen rather than weaken democracy, and that his government is carrying out the will of the people.

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