Likud minister says ‘protesters of darkness’ spat on him at Tel Aviv event

Israel Katz denounces ‘violence masquerading as democracy’; anti-overhaul protesters rally near PM’s Caesarea home

Anti-overhaul protesters rally against Energy Minister Israel Katz as he's escorted to his car in Tel Aviv, June 11, 2023. (Twitter screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Anti-overhaul protesters rally against Energy Minister Israel Katz as he's escorted to his car in Tel Aviv, June 11, 2023. (Twitter screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Energy Minister Israel Katz of the ruling Likud party accused protesters against the government’s judicial overhaul push of spitting on him Sunday in Tel Aviv.

Katz was met by the protesters as he attended an event marking 100 years since the coastal city’s street lights were first powered by electricity. Footage showed a group of demonstrators blowing horns and waving Israeli flags as Katz spoke on stage.

Some protesters continued to demonstrate as Katz left, shouting “shame” as he was escorted to a waiting car.

In a tweet, Katz said he had spoken before “the protesters of darkness, who screamed and cursed and it turns out also spat.”

“I won’t be deterred by violence masquerading as democracy. I will continue to build the country according to my way and vision,” he added.

Supporters of the government later posted a photo to social media showing what appeared to be several white streaks on the back of Katz’s jacket, which they said was saliva.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a Likud member and one of the leading overhaul proponents, issued a statement Monday railing at the “shameful assault” on Katz.

“The violence and threats toward public figures by those who are supposedly speaking in the name of democracy are a disgrace and long ago should have been handled with a strong hand,” Levin said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud also denounced the protesters’ behavior.

“Violence of any type is dangerous and forbidden, and requires stringent handling by law enforcement,” Gallant wrote on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Katz said the minister had not filed a police complaint for now.

Also Sunday, opponents of the far-reaching proposals to remake the judiciary rallied near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in the seaside town of Caesarea, where several other protests have recently been staged.

The protesters called on Netanyahu to “climb down from the tree” and fire Levin.

“Bibi must decide now: Either the total shelving of the dictatorial legislation, which that will keep Israel Jewish and democratic, or Yariv Levin. In a civilized nation, it wouldn’t even be a question,” a spokesman for Brothers in Arms reservist protest group said in a statement, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

This handout photo shows anti-overhaul protesters demonstrating near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea, June 12, 2023. (Brothers in Arms)

The Knesset is set to vote Wednesday to select two lawmakers to serve on the Judicial Selections Committee, control over which is crucial to Levin’s plans. The coalition has threatened to take both of the spots reserved for lawmakers, rather than have one for the coalition and one for the opposition as is traditional. Opposition leaders have said that if the coalition does so, it will signal the end of ongoing negotiations on judicial reform.

A report Sunday said Netanyahu was leaning toward having a spot on the nine-member panel go to an opposition MK.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets the past six months to demonstrate against the Levin-led judicial changes, at times blocking Tel Aviv’s main artery, the Ayalon Highway. Large numbers of supporters of the government’s plans have also rallied and occasionally also blocked roads, although with far less frequency.

The judicial legislation has been frozen since late March, when Netanyahu said he would halt the plans to allow for talks with the opposition aimed at finding a broadly accepted compromise for judicial reform.

But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough, and pressure has increased within the coalition to resume the legislative push. The opposition, as well, has faced calls to withdraw from the negotiations.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, eroding Israel’s democratic character and leaving minorities unprotected. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an overly activist and intrusive court system.

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