Key Haredi newspaper calls on readers to ‘stay away’ from pro-overhaul rally

Yated Ne’eman, affiliated with the Degel Hatorah faction in United Torah Judaism, says those who attend the Jerusalem demonstration are ‘not one of us’

Right-wing Israelis march with the Torah at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2023. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Right-wing Israelis march with the Torah at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2023. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

A popular Haredi newspaper called on its readers not to attend a mass rally on Thursday night in support of the government’s contentious bid to dramatically weaken the judiciary.

Yated Ne’eman, which is affiliated with the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah faction in United Torah Judaism — a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — ran a story about the pro-overhaul demonstration, noting its location and timing.

However, the accompanying article called on community members not to attend.

“We are clearly with the right at the behest of our rabbis, but we do not belong to, and do not embark on, this joint campaign,” the article read.

“We are in favor of legal reform and against the dictatorial takeover of peoples’ lives by liberal terrorism. But members of the Haredi community should stay away,” it added. “Those who go to right-wing demonstrations are not part of our audience, period. Those who go to right-wing demonstrations are not one of us.”

While Degel Hatorah has long been aligned with the political right, its rabbinic leaders are loath to identify with the state and its institutions. They also deeply oppose non-gender-segregated events.

Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu with MK Moshe Gafni, Degel HaTorah leader, at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Supporters of the coalition and proponents of the government’s contentious plan to shackle the judiciary are gearing up for a mass rally in favor of the overhaul on Thursday night in Jerusalem, which they hope will exceed in size the numerous massive anti-overhaul protests staged over the last four months.

While it has long been clear that the ultra-Orthodox community was unlikely to attend the event en masse, organizers still hope that some will participate.

Nationalist religious and settler activist groups and individuals are at the vanguard of the campaign, and some of the most senior members of the cabinet will speak at the event, including judicial overhaul architect Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, and Energy and Infrastructure Minister Israel Katz, although Netanyahu is not expected to participate.

The rally organizers are pitching the mass demonstration as a fightback by those who voted for the current government against the huge protest movement opposing the highly controversial legislation.

The mass anti-overhaul demonstrations have included growing refusal to serve by IDF reservists, labor strike actions and civil unrest, forcing Netanyahu to freeze the legislation until the next Knesset session, which begins next week, to allow for negotiations with the opposition on a potential compromise.

Rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. The Netanyahu banner reads: ‘Many politicians; one leader.’ (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

If implemented in full, the legislation would give governing coalitions almost complete control over judicial appointments, and drastically reduce the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation.

Opponents say the radical legislation would strip away almost all checks and balances from Israel’s system of government, eroding and potentially eliminating its democratic character and leaving minorities unprotected. Proponents say the changes are needed to rein in what they see as an activist court.

The pro-overhaul movement is being led by the new Tekuma 23 organization, established by Likud MK Avichay Buaron, a religious resident of the Amichai settlement in the West Bank, along with Beraleh Krombie, a settlement activist, strategic communications adviser and Chabad Hasid. The group were among the key organizers of a mass right-wing rally on March 27 that drew large numbers from the national religious and settler communities, just hours before Netanyahu announced he was freezing the legislation.

According to the organizers, as many as a thousand privately hired buses are scheduled to depart from dozens of locations around the country for the rally in Jerusalem.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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