Ex-minister: Plan is a clear and present danger to democracy

‘Democracy will win’: Amid terror threat, hundreds of thousands protest overhaul

Rallies begin with minute of silence for Friday’s terror victims; former defense minister Ya’alon calls on opposition not to compromise with Netanyahu on judicial legislation

  • Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, April 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, April 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • Protesters take part in a demonstration against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)
    Protesters take part in a demonstration against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)
  • Protesters gather outside the the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 8, 2023. (Naomi Lanzkron/Times of Israel)
    Protesters gather outside the the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 8, 2023. (Naomi Lanzkron/Times of Israel)
  • Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Protesters demonstrate against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Protesters demonstrate against the government's judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Hundreds of thousands of people attended nationwide protests against the government’s plans to shackle the country’s judiciary on Saturday, with protest organizers vowing to continue their struggle in the wake of several deadly terror attacks and rocket barrages.

Demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other locations both began with a minute’s silence for the three people killed in two separate suspected attacks on Friday. Protest organizers accepted a police request to cancel the routine marches and road-blocking efforts after the Tel Aviv rally to keep roads clear in case of another security incident.

The protests were overshadowed by the deaths of 20-year-old Maia Dee and 15-year-old Rina Dee from the West Bank settlement of Efrat in a shooting attack near the settlement of Hamra on Friday. Hours later, Italian national Alessandro Parini, a 35-year-old lawyer from Rome, was killed in a suspected ramming attack in Tel Aviv.

Despite the spike in terror and the Passover holiday, turnout remained relatively high at demonstrations, with media reports indicating 140,000 in attendance at the Tel Aviv demonstration and tens of thousands more in smaller demonstrations across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been holding weekly mass protests in Tel Aviv and around the country against the government’s judicial overhaul plans, with demonstrations continuing even after the coalition paused the legislation late last month to allow dialogue on its highly divisive efforts to weaken the justice system.

“We will continue our protest against the dictatorship as if there is no war on terror and we will continue to show up for reserve duty and support the IDF and the security forces as if there is no war against the dictatorship,” protest organizers said in a statement.

Police, in a statement on Saturday, said thousands of officers were deployed at the protests and urged demonstrators not to block roads, disturb the peace or interfere with police trying to do their duty.

They also called on the public to report anything suspicious.

Amid the Passover holiday, protesters in several demonstrations held banners of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an Egyptian pharaoh reading, “Let my people go,” referencing Moses’s plea to the biblical Pharaoh to allow the Israelite slaves to leave Egypt.

Addressing the rally in Tel Aviv, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon urged opposition leaders: “Do not try to save [Netanyahu] with a rotten ‘compromise’ that will harm democracy, in the name of false responsibility.”

Many in the opposition say they suspect the government is insincere in its attempts to reach a deal through negotiations after Netanyahu called the halt on legislation.

“The accused has been warned thousands of times that his obsessive plot to turn Israel into a dictatorship constitutes an immediate and existential danger to Israel’s security,” Ya’alon said, referencing Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges.

“Look at [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s wretched army and you will understand — this is what an army in a dictatorship is like without honest reporting, without a code,” he said.

“The dictatorship is harming the strategic alliance with the USA, our enemies are watching and deterrence is eroding,” he stated, calling the government’s failures “a thousand times more serious than the failure of the terrible Yom Kippur War.”

“Democracy will win. Israel will not be a dictatorship,” he added.

Close by the Tel Aviv rally, Esther Hayut, the president of the Supreme Court, was given rapturous applause when attending a concert marking 75 years of the Gevatron folk singers group at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium (Heichal Hatarbut).

In a landmark speech three months ago, Hayut denounced the Netanyahu coalition’s plan to radically overhaul Israel’s judicial and legal system, saying it would deal a “fatal blow” to Israel’s democratic identity.

In Herzliya, Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, pressed the government on the timing of its divisive legislation, as the country faces several security threats.

“If you really believe that Israel’s security demands unity, all that is required of you is to announce that you prefer to gain control over terrorism instead of gaining control of the courts,” she said.

“The government is made up of those who think that being in government is worth more than equality, because when there is equality they will have to serve in the IDF and fight terrorism like the rest of us, and women will be free and LGBTQ people will have recognized families,” Livni added.

In Haifa, demonstrators were joined by Amos Malka, former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate, and Meir Sheetrit, a former Likud minister.

Sheetrit told the crowd the country was faced with “a clear and present danger of the elimination of democracy.

“The Knesset, for many years, has been a rubber stamp for the government,” Sheetrit said, referencing Israel’s unicameral system, in which government is chosen by a majority in the lone 120-member Knesset.

“The court is the only body that remains to protect everyday citizens against the tyranny of government, and this is what the government wants to eliminate through the override clause,” he said, noting the controversial plan which would allow a simple majority of 61 Knesset members to overturn a High Court ruling.

“What happened to Bibi? What happened to Likud? Have you gone mad? I was in the Likud for 32 years. The government wants to send LGBTQ people back to the closet, to turn us into a racist country,” he said. “Tomorrow they could decide that Arabs can’t vote and disqualify Arab political parties. Tomorrow they could decide that we, the ‘anarchists,’ can’t vote.”

Sheetrit noted that 10 out of 12 Supreme Court justices were picked under Likud governments, decrying attempts by the government to portray the judiciary as not representative of the right.

“What they are telling you about the court is a lie. I am ashamed of the sheepish silence of Likud members,” he said.

Earlier, in Tel Aviv, a group of demonstrators play-acted the forces of the national guard proposed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, repeating a similar protest that occurred last week. Critics have claimed the force could amount to the minister’s private militia.

Protesters held a “silent march” in the central city of Rehovot, in memory of those killed on Friday.

Despite the calmer nature of Saturday night’s demonstrations, the Walla news site reported that a group drove by demonstrators and poured water on them at Beit Hashita Junction in northern Israel. Police arrested four suspects after they tried to flee, Walla reported.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said in a Facebook post earlier Saturday that 100 days after the current government was sworn in, “we are in the biggest national crisis in our history.”

“Israel is a battered, pained, confused country,” he said, noting the current deadly multifront security flareup and the worsening economical situation, and slamming Netanyahu’s firing of the defense minister — which hasn’t been implemented weeks later — and the conduct of Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

“More than anything, society is falling apart. The coalition is threatening to cancel the state’s democratic foundations in a hasty and destructive process that would hand the government unlimited power,” Lapid added, saying Netanyahu “has lost control” and praising the regular anti-government protests.

“There has never been such a swift implosion. In 100 days, the government led a process of internal destruction the likes of which we haven’t seen,” he concluded.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid during a discussion and a vote on the Hametz Law, in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The surge in regional violence has come as tensions have spiked in recent days following Israeli police incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount to quell rioting; on Thursday, Hamas terrorists fired volleys of rockets at Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, authorities said. Israel, in response, launched a number of airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza and struck the group’s infrastructure in southern Lebanon where it has a presence among Palestinian refugee camps.

There have also been several other attacks in the West Bank, with three soldiers hurt in a car-ramming attack last Saturday, and two more soldiers hurt in separate shooting attacks on Wednesday and Thursday.

Netanyahu reportedly told his security cabinet this week that Israel was trying to avoid escalating the conflicts on several fronts while the government was hobbled by widespread domestic opposition.

Netanyahu said Israel must avoid being dragged into confrontations and wider-scale conflicts and present a united front, according to a report Friday by Channel 12, following months of intense internal upheaval sparked by his government’s judicial overhaul push and other controversial moves by the hawkish coalition.

The protests have shown no signs of abating since Netanyahu paused the overhaul legislation.

Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding that instead of pausing the legislation to weaken the courts and politicize judge selection — while warning that the bills could be reintroduced soon — the coalition shelve the bills completely.

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