Hundreds protest incoming coalition outside Knesset as government sworn in

Demonstrators express particular concern over plans to hobble the High Court, the country’s economic outlook and ministers with criminal records

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Demonstrators protest against the new right-wing, religious government sworn in on December 29, 2022 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)
Demonstrators protest against the new right-wing, religious government sworn in on December 29, 2022 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

Hundreds of protesters descended on the Knesset Thursday, starting in the morning, to demonstrate against the new government and denounce what they said were its corrupt leaders and extremist policies, which they claimed will endanger the future of the country.

Amid a raucous atmosphere, protesters blasted foghorns and shouted through megaphones, condemning incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his corruption trials and castigating his government’s plans to curtail the authority of the High Court of Justice.

Demonstrators carried Israeli and LGBTQ pride flags, as well as placards with a wide variety of slogans lamenting the entry into power of a right-wing, religious government.

One protester held aloft a sign that read, “Fascism is for cowards,” while another dressed himself up in a striped convict’s uniform, handcuffs and a Netanyahu mask, a reference to the incoming prime minister’s ongoing trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Concern for the High Court was a prominent theme at the demonstration, with numerous protesters — many of them in late middle age or elderly — holding up signs denouncing plans to pass an override law that would hobble judicial checks on executive and legislative power.

“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 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.

Demonstrators outside the Knesset protest against the new right-wing, religious government sworn in on December 29, 2022 (Movement for Quality Government)

“What’s happening now is a catastrophe,” said Bernard “Buddy” Green, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, who immigrated in 1967 and lives in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Green said he was particularly concerned over “the attack on the Supreme Court,” which he said was crucial in ensuring the country does not make serious errors in governance.

“Now they want to tear it down. They want the court to okay what they do,” he said.

Green expressed concern over the fact that several ministers and MKs in the new coalition were either convicted or on trial on criminal charges, and also voiced opposition to Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir assuming the powerful role of national security minister.

“That someone who supports Kahane should be in a position of power — it’s like a bad dream,” he said.

Bernard ‘Buddy’ Green from Jerusalem participate in a demonstration against the new right-wing, religious government sworn in on December 29, 2022 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

Ben Gvir has several criminal convictions, including one for incitement to racial hatred, and was accused by the current police commissioner in May 2021 of having a role in the explosion of inter-communal riots that month.

Karen, from central Israel, fumed in particular over what she said was the corruption of the heads of the new government, including the incoming prime minister.

“Netanyahu is simply trying to extricate himself from his personal problems, from the threat of prison. We have an interior minister who is also the health minister and will afterwards become the finance minister who has been convicted on criminal charges twice,” she said. “How can this be?”

Karen was referring to Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who was convicted in 1999 on bribery charges, and convicted earlier this year with a suspended sentence on tax fraud charges.

She also voiced concern about the economic future of the country, bearing in mind the large financial commitments made by the incoming government in its coalition agreements.

A protester at the demonstration outside the Knesset against the new right-wing, religious government holds up a placard saying ‘Fascism is for cowards,’ December 29, 2022 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

“Who will fund this? A small portion of the people work in this country and bring in income and serve,” she said, in reference to increasing subsidies for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students and new welfare allocations.

Avi Baruchi, who traveled to Jerusalem from Nahariya in the north, said he believed the country was falling apart, citing specifically the threat to the High Court of Justice.

“The High Court will just disappear. We should tell Israeli citizens, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there is no one to represent you. If you are discriminated against, there’s no one who can help you,’” he said.

“Democracy without the High Court, in this country which does not have a constitution, will basically not be a democracy. It will be the rule of a government without boundaries.”

One of the primary goals of the incoming government is to strictly limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation and reverse government decisions, allowing the Knesset to re-legislate any laws the court does invalidate.

Baruch opined that Israel may experience repercussions from the international community should it enact the more radical policy pledges  of the incoming government, and may also witness a brain drain if democratic liberties are quickly eroded.

“When there is no real democracy here, people will start leaving the country,” he said. “Those who leave will be specifically the ones who keep a country going, who create technology, who bring science, then our destruction will come very quickly.”

Avi Baruchi, who traveled from Nahariya to Jerusalem to protest against the new right-wing, religious government sworn in on December 29, 2022 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

Speaking at the demonstration, the head of the Movement for Quality Government, Eliad Shraga, described the new coalition as “the first fascist government of Israel” and condemned what he said was the extremism and corruption of the incoming ministers, including Netanyahu.

“The prophecy of Isaiah has never been fulfilled as it has been today: ‘How has the faithful city become a harlot!” declared Shraga.

“They will advance darkness, and we together will advance light, and more light, and more light until the sun shines once again.”

During the course of the demonstration, but several dozen meters away from the main protest, opposition MK Boaz Toporovsky of Yesh Atid got involved in an altercation with a right-wing counter-demonstrator who had erected a banner bearing the words “Lefties are traitors.”

Toporovsky tore down the banner and he and the protester had to be separated by police.

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