Graffiti on justice minister’s home brands him ‘enemy of the people’
Likud ministers, opposition MKs decry vandalism targeting Yariv Levin, a leading figure in the government’s judicial overhaul push
Police on Friday launched an investigation after graffiti denouncing Justice Minister Yariv Levin was spray-painted on an outer wall of his home in Modiin.
The graffiti called Levin “the enemy of the people.”
There was no immediate comment from Levin, who is observing the traditional Jewish mourning period after his father died earlier this week. It was not clear if he was home when the graffiti was spray-painted.
A police statement said officers were working to gather evidence.
Levin, a top Likud party confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a leading figure in the government’s push to overhaul the judicial system, which have been met with mass protests.
As part of the demonstrations, protesters have also held rallies outside the homes of ministers who back the shakeup plans, including Levin’s, where several were assaulted in January. On Friday, demonstrations were held outside the houses of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, both of Likud.
Condemning the graffiti, Netanyahu called for police and prosecutors to take immediate and forceful action.
President Isaac Herzog said in a condemnation statement that the graffiti was “a horrifying sight.”
Likud Minister Miki Zohar claimed the graffiti was the result of “an organized campaign of incitement aimed at spreading hate against us.”
“We are democratically implementing the will of the voter and bringing a long-awaited change. The incitement and lies that our democracy is in danger are spin that is meant to deter the public,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The reform will be completed,” Zohar vowed.
Education Minister Yoav Kisch, also of Likud, said “hatred like this is what may destroy our society,”
“Shame on you,” he added.
A number of opposition MKs also denounced the vandalism, including Yest Atid chief Yair Lapid, who said the graffiti did not keep with “the spirit of patriotic protest.”
“Even when the house is on fire, boundaries need to be placed,” tweeted National Unity leader Benny Gantz. “The demonstrations to safeguard democracy are critical. Malicious graffiti and incitement are illegitimate.”
Fellow National Unity MK Chili Tropper called to keep “hatred” outside the political discourse.
“How much ugliness and hate there is in someone who decides to spray-paint graffiti condemning the justice minister and branding him an enemy of the people,” Tropper said in a statement.
The graffiti was spray-painted a day after mass anti-overhaul protests that included the blocking of roads and a day before planned weekly rallies in Tel Aviv and other cities across the country. Police detained 21 people Thursday in several incidents, including two motorists accused of pepper-spraying demonstrators who blocked the road.
It also came as the coalition appeared to be plowing full speed ahead with its divisive legislation to radically restructure the justice system, after Herzog’s alternative proposal for reforms was immediately rejected by coalition chiefs.
For weeks, the opposition has demanded the legislative process of the overhaul be frozen for a set time to allow for talks on a compromise. The coalition has said it is open to negotiations, but without preconditions, adamantly refusing to slow down the legislation which Levin has said he aims to get enacted into law by the end of the month.
Levin has appeared to be the least open to compromise on any element of the deal. Numerous reports in recent weeks — denied by the Prime Minister’s Office — have indicated that Netanyahu has sought to soften the current legislation but received fierce pushback from Levin, who has threatened to quit.
In a briefing to reporters in Berlin on Thursday, Netanyahu said that he was “attentive to what is happening among the people,” and believes the coalition must act “responsibly” to come to an agreement, but again rejected Herzog’s outline.
The government’s plan, as it stands, would allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians. Opponents argue it will radically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.
The president’s proposed framework, which was published on a new website as he spoke, addresses critical aspects of the relationship between the branches of government, including giving greater constitutional heft to the Basic Laws; how judges are selected; judicial review over Knesset legislation; and the authority of government legal advisers and the attorney general. It would also enshrine some fundamental civil rights in the Basic Laws that are not explicitly protected at present.
Despite 11 weeks of mass protests against the government’s plans and stark warnings from business, military, legal and financial officials in Israel and around the world, the coalition has not paused or slowed down any of its planned legislation. On Sunday, the Knesset is scheduled to vote to give final approval to a bill that would severely limit the ability of courts or lawmakers to remove a prime minister who is unfit for office. Further votes to finalize other portions of the plan, including the highly contentious override clause, are expected by the end of the month.
Herzog has led calls in recent weeks for opposition and coalition lawmakers to sit down for negotiations, urged the coalition to “abandon” the current legislation, and warned Wednesday that Israel is heading toward a “real civil war” amid the bitter national dispute over the overhaul plan.