Tel Aviv rally to hold tribute for troops slain on border

Anti-overhaul protests enter 22nd week spurred by violent clashes with police

Organizers say government ‘attempting to silence dissent through severe brutality’ after clashes, arrests at PM’s Caesarea home and Rothman snatching megaphone from protester in NY

Demonstrators play the drums during a rally protesting the Israeli government's judicial overhaul proposals, in Tel Aviv on June 3, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Demonstrators play the drums during a rally protesting the Israeli government's judicial overhaul proposals, in Tel Aviv on June 3, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul were set to enter their 22nd week on Saturday night spurred by a series of violent incidents that organizers said were indicative of the government’s growing authoritarian bent.

Protest organizers said Saturday’s rallies would be held in Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Jerusalem, Haifa and around 150 other locations around the country and accused the government of “attempting to silence dissent through severe brutality.”

The accusations come after 17 people were arrested and several wounded in demonstrations overnight and MK Simcha Rothman was filmed ripping away a megaphone from a protester during his visit to New York.

Organizers said the main protest in Tel Aviv, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in recent months, would start at 7 p.m. with a march from Habima Square to Kaplan Street where the main demonstration would take place at 8 p.m.

There would also be a separate march by the “anti-occupation bloc” of protesters that would leave Dizengoff Center at 6 p.m.

“The leadership of the national protests strongly condemns the appalling acts of violence witnessed in Caesarea, Israel and New York City last night, affirming that institutionalized violence is a defining feature of dictatorships,” organizers said in a statement.

Protesters lift flags during a rally protesting the government’s judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv on May 27, 2023. (Jacl Guez/AFP)

“The scenes we witnessed in Caesarea last night are a complete travesty of justice orchestrated by a dictatorial regime attempting to silence dissent through severe brutality,” they said.

Organizers later said they would begin the rally with a commemoration for three Israeli soldiers killed in a shooting and clashes on the border with an Egyptian policeman, who was later shot dead, adding artistic performances would be cancelled.

This photo from June 2, 2023, circulated by the Brothers in Arms group, shows bloody handprints on a police car following arrests at the protest outside the private home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Caesarea. The group said the blood was from those arrested. (Brothers in Arms)

“This is not an isolated incident but a direct result of the efforts of the indicted terrorist sympathizer, Itamar Ben-Gvir,” referring to the far-right National Security Minister who has called for more force to be used against demonstrators who block roads.

At least 17 people were arrested and several injured during a protest on Friday night outside the private residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the affluent coastal town of Caesarea and a subsequent demonstration outside a police station, the Israel Police and protest organizers said.

The police said hundreds of people took part in the “illegal protest” across from the estate and some began “violating public order” and refusing police orders to disperse. According to the police, some protesters allegedly “attacked police officers with fists and objects.”

Protesters who were blocking a road near the residence were dispersed by officers and three were arrested, according to the police statement.

The prominent protest group Brothers in Arms said Moshe Radman, a leader in the protest movement against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plans, was among those arrested.

The organization urged demonstrators to show up at the Hadera police station to push for the release of the detainees and circulated a short video that appears to show officers attacking protesters and a photo of bloody handprints on a white police car it said came from the injuries of those arrested.

“Our democracy is bleeding, come now,” the group urged.

Police arrested at least 14 more protesters among several hundred outside the Hadera station late Friday, according to protest organizers.

Radman, a prominent high-tech entrepreneur has been at the forefront of demonstrations against the coalition’s legislation, and has been arrested a number of times over the past few months.

Radman was later hospitalized, saying he started throwing up after receiving several elbows to the head.

Following his arrest and injuries, protest organizers said he would address the main rally in Tel Aviv Saturday evening.

On Saturday morning, a court extended the remand of one of the detained on suspicion of attacking an officer. The other 16 were released.

Protesters also accused police of moving the detained from police station to police station and denying them access to their lawyers.

Demonstrations against the government have followed lawmakers overseas, with a focus this week on New York where several coalition MKs were in town for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on Sunday.

Anti-government demonstrators filed a harassment complaint against Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman early Saturday after he forcefully grabbed a megaphone away from one of the protesters while visiting New York.

The lawmakers have been repeatedly targeted by anti-overhaul protesters in the city, who have largely focused on Rothman, the chair of the Constitution Law and Justice Committee and a key architect of the judicial overhaul.

Late Friday, Rothman appeared to lose his cool with demonstrators walking behind him and chanting with a megaphone as he walked back to his hotel from a meeting.

In a video posted to social media, Rothman can be seen spinning around and forcibly grabbing the megaphone from a woman, before running off with it.

Further video showed protesters continuing to scuffle with Rothman and his security as they tried to get the megaphone back. At least 2 people were pushed to the floor.

The continued demonstrations come a week after Netanyahu said the contentious plan to revamp the judiciary would now return to the legislative agenda after the passage of the state budget.

The judicial overhaul legislation has been frozen since late March, when Netanyahu said he would halt the plans to allow for talks with the opposition under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog, aimed at finding a broadly accepted compromise for judicial reform.

But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough, and pressure has increased within the coalition to resume the legislative push.

Netanyahu said last week, following the passage of the state budget, that “of course” the overhaul was now back on the government’s agenda. Later that day, however, he added: “We will of course continue with our efforts to arrive at a broad consensus agreement, to the extent possible, on the issue of judicial reform.”

A large banner depicts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during anti-judicial overhaul protests in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2023. (Video screenshot)

Speaking Saturday, opposition Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman criticized the ongoing talks.

“[Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid have fallen into Netanyahu’s trap. There is no reason to advance piecemeal in the talks at the President’s Residence,” he told a cultural event in Netanya. “I am for judicial reform, but something completely different, we need a constitution.”

Liberman was repeatedly jeered by pro-government demonstrators, who chanted “go back to Russia” at the Moldovan-born politician.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an over-intrusive court system.

The centerpiece of the overhaul is legislation that would give governing coalitions extensive control over the overwhelming majority of judicial appointments in Israel, by giving the coalition an in-built majority on the Judicial Selection Committee.

The bill is on the cusp of being passed into law, and can be brought for its final, back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum at a moment’s notice. However, such action is almost sure to lead to a resumption of intense public unrest, the likes of which was last seen before the legislation was frozen.

Most Popular
read more: