Hundreds of protesters against the government’s judicial overhaul staged a fiery demonstration Tuesday morning outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s home, as they vowed to ramp up protests over the advancement of a bill to curb the High Court of Justice’s power to review government decisions.
Police arrested six of the protesters after they burned tires outside Levin’s home in the city of Modiin and attempted to block the road, leading to scuffles as some demonstrators tried to prevent the police patrol cars from leaving.
Officers then used pepper spray to clear the protesters and video showed police attempting to forcibly remove demonstrators who were sitting in the street.
Protesters also placed barbed wire in the street and carried large replicas of salamis to protest the government’s alleged approach of passing the overhaul legislation piecemeal — in what is sometimes called “salami tactics” — rather than all at once, in an apparent effort to avoid mass unrest.
A statement from police said the demonstrators had disturbed the peace in the usually quiet city, slamming “rioters for burning tires in the heart of a residential neighborhood.” It added that the local commander had ordered officers to respond “decisively.”
The rally was organized by Brothers in Arms, a protest group of military reservists.
כעת מול ביתו של שר המשפטים: פעילי ״אחים לנשק״ מפגינים נגד יריב לוין וחוסמים את הכביש. גם צמיגים הובערו כבר pic.twitter.com/L1wby7BzA0
— רן שמעוני Ran Shimoni (@ran_shimoni) June 27, 2023
“Today, it’s already clear to everyone who really rules this country and is leading it to devastation, but we’ll liberate it from him,” the organization said in a statement, referring to Levin, the overhaul’s lead architect. “In the coming weeks we’ll intensify the struggle for the country’s character, and the nation of Israel must in all its might join the efforts to safeguard democracy.”
Before the demonstration, organizers had briefed the protesters not to act violently or clash with police, according to the Ynet news site.
Protests against the planned shakeup of the judiciary have previously been held outside the home of Levin, a leading proponent of the far-reaching proposals to curb the judicial system’s authority and the No. 2 in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) June 27, 2023
Levin later released a searing statement in which he claimed that “fortunately or miraculously,” the protesters didn’t torch an apartment in his residential building, and seemed to accuse police of being intentionally slow in responding.
He also railed at Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for opposing his proposals to weaken the judiciary and shift some of its powers to elected officials.
“The violent incidents, the open calls for rebellion, the threats and incitement to violence… have up to now not earned a single word of public comment on the part of the attorney general or her team,” Levin charged.
“The attorney general and the law enforcement system under her are ignoring the violence, if not winking at the instigators, and allowing the lawlessness to run wild,” he alleged.
Levin also claimed “selective enforcement” and said the protest “again proved” why a radical transformation of the judicial system is necessary.
“I’m determined. They won’t succeed in deterring me. I will not budge from my path. I will perform the mission the public entrusted me with,” he said. “The reform must pass.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later issued a statement on the scenes outside Levin’s home, which he charged were “a direct result of the calls for rebellion and a civil uprising.” The reference was to former prime minister Ehud Barak’s calls for “non-violent civil disobedience” and a “revolt” against the government’s push to overhaul the judicial system.
“The time has come for the attorney general and Israel Police to act with all their might and determination against lawbreakers, without regard to religion, race, geographic area or political opinion,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by Likud.
Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been urging police to deal more forcefully with the protesters, called for police to arrest “the anarchists” outside Levin’s home while claiming dozens would have been handcuffed if right-wing demonstrators behaved similarly.
“Unfortunately a handful of rioters is paralyzing Israel with the backing of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara,” Ben Gvir claimed without evidence in a statement.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism partly, denounced the protesters as “a handful of violent people who are ready to burn down everything here.”
“[They] won’t deter us,” Smotrich tweeted.
He also accused law enforcement of “intentional and discriminatory dereliction against the violent and criminal anarchists of the far-left.”
The protest outside Levin’s home came as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice was due to convene Tuesday for additional deliberations on a bill to block justices from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government decisions. During a hearing Monday, a deputy attorney general warned the proposal would open a legal “black hole” and “seriously damage basic democratic values.”
Netanyahu’s coalition reignited its judicial shakeup this week by attacking the reasonableness clause, relying on insights gleaned from negotiations with opposition representatives to calculate that constraining judicial review in this manner would spark the least objection.
However, rather than merely tighten the conditions under which courts could evaluate the reasonableness of a government decision, the coalition presented a broad proposal to completely remove court oversight over a range of decisions made by potentially any elected official.
The court would still be able to use the reasonableness test against decisions made by non-elected officials and would be able to apply other judicial and statutory tests, where applicable.
Protests against the coalition’s broader overhaul plan are in their 25th week, joined by a chorus of academic, judicial, diplomatic, economic and opposition political voices that warn that the coalition’s plan will threaten Israel’s liberal democratic system of governance.
Cross-spectrum negotiations facilitated by President Isaac Herzog have broken down, without registering any tangible progress. Following its block against using the reasonableness test for elected officials, the coalition plans to redesign the body that selects judges, during the Knesset’s winter session.