Anti-overhaul protesters block Tel Aviv highway, rally outside ministers’ homes

Activists demonstrate against government’s judicial shakeup across the country; overhaul supporters protest at chief justice’s house

Anti-overhaul activists protest against the judicial overhaul outside the home of Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer in Jerusalem on August 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Anti-overhaul activists protest against the judicial overhaul outside the home of Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer in Jerusalem on August 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Demonstrators on Thursday evening blocked traffic on part of Tel Aviv’s main highway and rallied outside the homes of coalition members, as part of ongoing protests against the government’s judicial overhaul.

A small group of protesters ran onto the northbound lane of the Ayalon Highway, briefly shutting down traffic between the Halacha and Rokah exits as they beat drums, waved flags and sang songs.

There were no reports of arrests, with the demonstrators apparently dispersing on their own.

Protests were also held around the country outside the homes of numerous ministers and lawmakers, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the latter of whom is the leading voice for weakening the judiciary.

Thursday’s rallies were held under the banner of “Operation Conflict of Interest,” referring to an arrangement under which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is barred from dealing with matters that could affect his ongoing trial on graft charges.

That arrangement has been in the headlines in recent days, as the coalition has attacked the High Court of Justice for reviewing recent legislation that would prevent Netanyahu’s removal from office should he flaunt his conflict of interest agreement.

“They are starting to waver,” protest leaders said in a statement, amid reports that some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party oppose the next likely overhaul bill — one to change the makeup of the panel that selects Israel’s judges,

“We must continue applying pressure on all the collaborators,” they added.

The High Court of Justice is due to hear petitions next month against the so-called recusal law, which was ostensibly passed to prevent the court or the attorney general from determining that Netanyahu was in violation of his conflict of interest agreement, signed in 2020 in light of his criminal indictments, due to his involvement in his coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation.

Dozens of overhaul supporters attended a rally Thursday organized by the right-wing Im Tirtzu group outside the home of Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, charging it was she who had a “conflict of interest.”

The claim echoed a petition filed earlier in the day against Hayut chairing an upcoming hearing on another law, which prevents courts from striking down government decisions on grounds of “reasonableness,” and which was the first major piece of legislation passed in the judicial overhaul.

The High Court of Justice will for the first time ever convene a 15-judge panel to hear petitions against the highly controversial law passed last month to limit the court’s oversight. This too will take place next month.

The petition against Hayut was filed by the Lavi lobbying group, which says that the judge has already publicly expressed her opposition to the law. Lavi had already asked for Hayut to recuse herself completely from the discussion, which she declined.

“The petition is filed due to [Hayut’s] well-known position regarding the reasonableness law that she has frequently expressed in public,” the petition says.

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, August 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hayut issued a statement last week according to which she had decided that every justice on the court would preside over the hugely significant and explosive hearing against the “reasonableness” law which, together with the rest of the Netanyahu coalition’s judicial overhaul agenda, has created an unprecedented protest movement and an ever-widening societal rift.

The petitions the court has accepted against the law will be heard on September 12.

Also Thursday, Channel 12 news reported that nearly 1,600 high-profile professors and academics endorsed a letter by Tel Aviv University President Ariel Porat calling for a general strike if the government rejects a High Court decision striking down the law. Netanyahu has so far refused to say he will respect such action.

In the letter, Porat cited the prospect of a “constitutional crisis,” in which officials such as the heads of the military and security agencies would receive “conflicting instructions” and have to decide whether to obey the government or the court.

“The answer to this question is completely clear: In any democratic country, the duty is to obey the court’s ruling,” he added.

Tel Aviv University President Ariel Porat. (Courtesy: Yonatan Tzur Duvdevani)

In several recent interviews with US media on the reasonableness law, the prime minister has repeatedly refused to say whether, if the court struck it down, he would adhere to such a ruling, and warned the court against doing so. Other members of his Likud party have said such a ruling would be respected, but would nevertheless cause a crisis.

The High Court has never struck down changes to a Basic Law, though no other Basic Law legislation has ever caused such uproar and division within the public.

Critics of the reasonableness law have said passing such a critical piece of legislation without consensus — with all 56 members of the opposition boycotting the vote — and at a swift pace that did not allow much time for deliberations or review, should lead the court to consider taking action.

Before the bill passed, there were nationwide protests against it, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures, repeated warnings from allies — chief among them the US — and threats by thousands of military reservists to quit volunteer service.

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