Anti-overhaul protests enter 20th week as compromise talks remain stalled

Protest organizers rail against coalition’s budget, ‘deceptive negotiations,’ as rallies resume after pause due to Gaza rocket dangers last week

Protesters against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Protesters against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul entered their 20th week on Saturday night, as compromise talks between the coalition and opposition remained stalled and the government’s opponents decried its budget priorities.

Last week’s protests were downsized due to the threat of rocket fire from Gaza as Israel battled the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

Protest organizers said Saturday’s rallies would be held in Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Jerusalem, Haifa and 150 other locations around the country “against the looming threat of a dictatorship in Israel.”

The protest in Tel Aviv will begin at 7 p.m. at Dizengoff Square in the central part of the city. The demonstrators will march from there to Kaplan Street for the main rally.

Speakers at the event will include the former budget director for the Finance Ministry, Shaul Meridor, writer Sefi Rachlevsky and Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi.

“The government’s plan to plunder the public treasury in favor of political corruption, rather than investing in the welfare of citizens, is a decisive step towards transforming Israel into a dictatorial regime,” protest organizers said.

Protesters against the government’s judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Netanyahu continues to waste time through deceptive negotiations while he gives 14 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to his political allies. These corrupt actions serve as a means to facilitate the implementation of dictatorial laws,” they said. “The negotiations allow Netanyahu to continue weakening the foundations of democracy. We call upon opposition leader Lapid and MK Gantz to withdraw from these deceptive negotiations immediately.”

While the demonstrators have so far focused on opposing the government’s planned overhaul, they have now also turned their attention to the huge allocations of money given to coalition parties as part of the latest budget. The major issues targeted by government critics were the approval of NIS 13.7 billion ($4 billion) in discretionary funds, mostly for the ultra-Orthodox community, and a controversial planned municipal tax fund that would take money from richer towns and redistribute it to poorer ones.

A protest march was held in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on Wednesday.

Protesters march in Bnei Brak against the billions in funds provided to ultra-Orthodox parties in the state budget, on May 17, 2023. (Omer Fichman/Flash90)

Anti-government protesters have gathered in Tel Aviv every Saturday night for the past 20 weeks since the government announced its plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Though the plan is now paused as the coalition and opposition hold negotiations for a potential compromise reform plan, many in the coalition have warned they could push forward with the effort to curb the courts, and weekly rallies have continued.

Up until March, the coalition moved at high speed with legislation that will bring most judicial appointments under government control and curb the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

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.

Compromise talks between the coalition and opposition have been taking place at President Isaac Herzog’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Opposition parties Yesh Atid and National Unity insisted this week that there had been no breakthroughs in the talks, contradicting reports of progress in several Hebrew media outlets.

The negotiations began at the beginning of last month.

Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Since Netanyahu froze the judicial overhaul legislation on March 28 and the Knesset returned from its Passover recess, the government has channeled all its efforts into passing the state budget, which must be approved by May 29.

Once the budget is approved, it appears likely that the coalition will return its focus to its judicial overhaul agenda.

The centerpiece of this program 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 in late March.

Last week’s protests were muted because some of the organizers called off their support due to the threat of rockets from Gaza during fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

The Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles after rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on May 13, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Some protesters showed up anyway, with several hundred gathering in Tel Aviv.

Around 5,000 marched in Haifa, a northern city farther from the Gaza threat.

Netanyahu has seen a bump in public support since the Gaza operation, after his ratings plummeted during his first four months in office, apparently due to public opposition to the judicial overhaul and other policies.

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