‘May God burn you’: Pro-overhaul protesters rally at home of ex-chief justice Barak

Demonstrators say they responded to former Supreme Court head’s call for further rallies against government’s plan to restrict judiciary; Barak defends their right to protest

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of a pro-government demonstration outside the home of former chief justice Aharon Barak in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of a pro-government demonstration outside the home of former chief justice Aharon Barak in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Hundreds of people rallied outside the Tel Aviv home of former chief justice Aharon Barak on Wednesday evening to show their support for the government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary.

Barak, 86, has been a vocal critic of the changes and a day earlier had urged further mass protests against the overhaul.

One of the protesters called out through a megaphone, “You’re evil. You don’t believe in God. May God strike you for what you’ve done to the people of Israel. You cause divisions and incite the people of Israel… May God burn you.”

Some held banners declaring that the High Court of Justice was “harming national security” and was a “dictatorship.”

The rally was organized by the right-wing Im Tirtzu group whose CEO Matan Peleg said in a statement that “the time has come for Aharon Barak to listen to the voices of the people and stop behaving like a legal dictator.”

“It is time to show responsibility,” Peleg said. “Not to trample on the will of the voter. The majority of the people chose legal reform, and even those who did not choose to reform the judicial system today understand the importance of reform and are working toward it. We must put an end to anarchism and reckless behavior.”

Barak later said he was not bothered by the protest and that the demonstrators have the right to rally outside his home.

“I wrote in rulings that the right to protest is also to protest outside the private home of a public figure. They see me as a public figure, and that’s fine with me,” he told the Haaretz daily on Thursday.

He added that the protests must be non-violent and “proportional” in terms of impact on the lives of those against whom they are directed.

On Tuesday, as Israel was marking its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, Barak gave an interview with Channel 13 in which he called on anti-government protesters to keep up their demonstrations, which have been held regularly since January.

“The demonstration needs to continue, it needs to grow,” he said, crediting the rallies with having compelled the government to pause the legislation and hold negotiations with opposition parties. He noted that the power to demonstrate is what minorities hold against the power of the majority in the Knesset.

Barak was born in 1936 in Lithuania and his family was forced to flee the invading forces of Nazi Germany.

In January Barak said he was willing to go before a firing squad if it would stop the judicial shake-up. He also accused Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the plan, of having “assembled all the bad proposals… into a chain that is strangling Israeli democracy.” They provide for the “cancellation of judicial oversight,” he said, calling it the constitutional equivalent “of a coup with tanks.”

Last week, MK David Amsalem, who serves as a second minister within the Justice Ministry for the ruling Likud party, said that Barak and current Supreme Court President Esther Hayut should be charged with “an attempted coup.” Hayut also opposes the judicial reform.

Saturday once again saw tens of thousands of people rally in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, vowing not to let any part of the overhaul pass into law. Critics say the planned legislation will remove the court’s ability to act as a check against executive power and degrade Israel’s democratic character.

Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak (Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Proponents of the government’s overhaul plans say reforms are needed to rein in politically motivated judicial activism.

Coalition and opposition parties are holding negotiations to reach an agreement on the judicial plan hosted by President Isaac Herzog at his official residence in Jerusalem.

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