Tens of thousands of Israelis were expected to join protests across the country on Saturday night as demonstrations against the government’s plans to overhaul and constrain the judiciary entered their 28th week and protest leaders promised “an unprecedented week of civil resistance.”
Anti-government opposition has stepped up in recent weeks as the coalition pushes ahead with plans to pass the “reasonableness” bill, aimed at preventing courts from invalidating or even discussing government and ministers’ decisions based on their “reasonableness.” It intends to pass the bill into law by month’s end.
Saturday’s mass demonstrations come in addition to a “day of resistance” called for Tuesday, with organizers planning protest action and road blockings across the country, and further disruptive actions taking place throughout the week. The day of resistance had initially been called for Monday but was postponed.
“The change in the date of the National Resistance Day comes after an assessment that took place in the last day, in which it was decided to organize a series of protests and diverse, determined actions aimed at putting an end to the judicial overhaul,” organizers said in a statement.
It said Tuesday’s protests “will start an unprecedented week of civil resistance and disobedience to the judicial overhaul.”
The government’s decision to push ahead with the reasonableness bill has also sparked fresh warnings from Israel Defense Force reservists — including from pilots and elite commando units — that they would stop showing up for duty if the legislation goes ahead.
On Friday they were joined by the Israel Medical Association, which warned that hospitals and doctors could strike in opposition to the bill.
The association held emergency discussions Thursday to discuss the ramifications of the law and members agreed that “it will devastate the healthcare system and is not just a theoretical concern,” said IMA Chairman Prof. Zion Hagay.
“The members of the executive committee have authorized the leadership to employ all available means, including significant organizational measures,” he said.
Over 1,000 doctors on Thursday penned a letter to Hagay, urging him to declare a strike until the “complete trashing of the overhaul,” charging that the plans will harm “the quality of medicine in Israel, will harm patients and undermine the great achievements of Israeli medicine.”
Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians and co-leader of the “White Coats,” a group of doctors opposed to the government’s policies, welcomed the call.
“Abolishing this clause would allow political control over medical professionalism, in other words, politicizing medicine, and would harm public health and medical autonomy. This is not reasonable,” said Levine.
“If the government does not stop, the healthcare system will stop,” he said.
The warnings of harm to the medical sector join similar warnings issued by high-tech workers, economists, lawyers and military officials, all cautioning that the legislation — if passed — would harm Israel’s democracy, economy and security.
Weekly Saturday night rallies have drawn hundreds of thousands of people nationwide and this week will again be centered in Tel Aviv, where a march will start at 7 p.m. from the mall in nearby Givatayim to Kaplan Street, which has been a focal point of the protests.
Additional major protests are planned for Haifa, Jerusalem, Netanya, Herzliya and Ramat Gan and dozens of other cities.
Also Saturday, activists set up what they called “the first democracy outpost,” establishing a camp outside the Herzliya Magistrate’s Court. The camp includes a six-meter (18-foot) tower with a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence hung from it.
“This week the government is going to pass legislation that will put us on the brink of a dictatorship,” activist Dana Oren-Yania told the Walla news site.
“We have our backs to the wall so we decided to set up the first democracy outpost in the spirit of the ‘tower and stockade’,” she said referring to the settlement method used by Zionist pioneers in British-ruled Palestine.
עשרות פעילים של מטה המאבק הדמוקרטי הרצליה הקימו הבוקר מאחז חומה ומגדל מול בית המשפט בהרצליה. לפני אור ראשון, בשעה חמש בבוקר, פרסו הפעילים את הציוד והחלו בבניית "מאחז הדמוקרטיה הראשון".
על המגדל, שגובהו שישה מטרים, נתלתה מגילת העצמאות. המאהל מזמין את ארגוני המאבק והפעילים לערוך… pic.twitter.com/SvUcLq89qB
— דמוקרטTV (@Democrat_TV) July 15, 2023
The coalition has vowed to press ahead with the changes to the judiciary despite the protests, which have also included daily rallies outside politicians’ homes and weekly mass actions meant to shut the country down and pile pressure on the government to back off. Critics say the overhaul will radically weaken the courts and remove checks on government power, putting the nation’s democratic character at risk. Proponents say the changes are needed to clamp down on an overly activist and politically biased judiciary.
Knesset Constitutional Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman plans to push his “reasonableness” bill through his Knesset committee next week, with the controversial legislation set to become law the following week.
The legislative push, which resumed after a several-week hiatus to allow for talks, continues to raise tensions between the government and its opponents. A Channel 12 poll Friday showed a full 67% of Israelis fear civil war. Another 29% said they did not, while 4% said they didn’t know.
Among those who voted for Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing bloc in the Knesset, 56% said they feared such an eventuality while 41% said they didn’t. In the opposite camp, the numbers were at 85% and 14%, respectively.