'No one has the right to reach for their passport'

As hard right takes power, president urges worried Israelis: Don’t say nation doomed

At public event, Herzog appears to criticize fiercest opponents of new Netanyahu government, while again beseeching the coalition to work on behalf of all citizens

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a memorial event for former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, December 30, 2022 (Video screenshot)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at a memorial event for former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, December 30, 2022 (Video screenshot)

President Isaac Herzog said Friday that Israelis worried by the policies of the new hard-right government or fearful for the country’s character should have more faith in the sturdiness of its democracy.

“No one has the privilege to act or talk as if ‘the country is doomed’ or to reach out for their passport,” Herzog said in remarks at a memorial ceremony for former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who died of cancer in 2012.

“Yesterday evening we held the traditional photo of the incoming government at the President’s Residence,” said Herzog. “I know that for many, this period is challenging and not an easy one. But Israeli democracy is long-standing and stable.

“Yesterday I spoke with the [members of the] 37th government of Israel,” the president continued. “I wished them success in their important mission and emphasized that it is their duty to act for the sake of all Israeli citizens and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.”

Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I asked and demanded that they show the responsibility that is required at this time,” Herzog added.

The remarks came a day after thousands of Israelis protested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, both outside the Knesset where its members were sworn in as well as on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Pro-LGBTQ demonstrators block a major highway in Tel Aviv as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds his first cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, December 29, 2002 (Kan TV screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In Jerusalem, protesters blasted foghorns and shouted through bullhorns, condemning Netanyahu over his corruption trial and castigating his government’s plans to curtail the authority of the High Court of Justice.

“There are no judges in Jerusalem,” “We won’t agree to anti-democratic laws,” and “Bibi, Ben Gvir and Smotrich are destroying the foundations of Israel’s democracy,” were some of the messages on display, referring to Netanyahu and the leaders of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties, respectively.

In Tel Aviv, the protest focused more on the feared threat the new government poses to the LGBTQ community. In the Likud party’s coalition deal with Religious Zionism, the new government committed to passing legislation that will allow businesses to refuse service to certain customers on the basis of their religious conscience.

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda Association for LGBTQ Equality, said at the rally that “darkness has descended on the State of Israel,” adding that the incoming government was made up of people who wished to impose conversion therapy — a practice strongly discouraged by major health organizations.

Cpt. (res.) Lila Rabinowitz, 28, who attended the rally wearing her army uniform, told the Ynet news site she came because “we are at war for the homeland.”

Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters participate in a protest against the new Israeli government in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Far-right Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock sparked outrage this week by saying that doctors could be allowed to refuse treatment that contravenes their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment. MK Simcha Ruthman subsequently backed up his colleague, saying that a hotel could refuse to serve gay people on religious grounds.

In addition, MK Avi Maoz, chair of the anti-LGBTQ Noam party, was handed control over an Education Ministry unit in charge of approving external educational vendors, who play a critical role in school programming. Especially prevalent in secular schools, these vendors cover a range of subjects from sexual health to bar mitzvah preparation.

Earlier this week, a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily revealed that the party had prepared lists of prominent gay journalists in 2019.

However, government ministers, including Netanyahu have pledged not to harm the status of LGBTQ citizens. Hosting his first cabinet meeting on Thursday, the Likud leader asserted: “That minority that is fearful, has nothing to fear.”

Likud MK Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist, was sworn in Thursday as Knesset speaker, the first openly gay person to hold the role. He praised Netanyahu for entrusting him with the post and promised that no harm would come to the LGBTQ community. Critics claim he will serve as a figleaf for harmful policies.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report

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