‘No dictatorship in our schools’: Protesters to rally against overhaul for 35th week

Protest leaders cite efforts by education minister to fire Yad Vashem head; announce mass marches in north, south of country

Israelis protest against the government's judicial overhaul plans, with a banner reading 'you sit at the back,' referencing incidents of discrimination against women on buses, in Tel Aviv, August 19, 2023. (Gilad Furst)
Israelis protest against the government's judicial overhaul plans, with a banner reading 'you sit at the back,' referencing incidents of discrimination against women on buses, in Tel Aviv, August 19, 2023. (Gilad Furst)

Protesters were set to demonstrate Saturday evening in Tel Aviv and across Israel for a 35th consecutive week against the government’s plans for overhauling the judicial system, under the banner of “no dictatorship in our schools.”

Saturday’s rallies were to be held the day after the academic year began, and as Education Minister Yoav Kisch sought to oust Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum director Dani Dayan, and replace him with an ally from his Likud party.

In a statement ahead of the demonstrations, protest leaders referred to the High Court of Justice hearings in the coming weeks on petitions against amendments to two Basic Laws passed by the coalition and another motion aimed at forcing Justice Minister Yariv Levin to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.

“Just before the start of the series of discussions at the High Court on the fate of Israeli democracy, we are witnessing a combined attack by ministers on the state’s institutions,” protest leaders said in a statement.

“The education minister against Yad Vashem, the foreign minister is destroying the foreign relations of Israel and the justice minister threatens the attorney general,” the statement read.

Demonstrations were set to be held at dozens of locations across the country. The Tel Aviv protest will begin with a march from Habima Square to the central rally at Kaplan Street at 8 p.m. It was unclear if it would be impacted by the clashes in the south of the city between Eritrean asylum seekers supporting and opposing the Asmara regime, and police.

Minister of Education Yoav Kisch at the education system’s war room in Jerusalem, ahead of the first day of school, August 31, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The main demonstration will be addressed by former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn, Avital Masterman from the education system protest group, Ronit Snir from the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, and Yuli Yavin, a Herzliya high school student leading efforts to have materials removed from schools which were produced by the Kohelet Policy Forum, the right-wing group which played a key role in developing the government’s overhaul plans.

In the statement, protest leaders called Kisch the “worst education minister in history” after it was revealed this week that he was seeking to replace Dayan with former Likud MK Keren Barak, claiming there are irregularities in the way Yad Vashem is run. Dayan has strenuously denied the accusations.

However, Channel 12 news tied Kisch’s move to the Holocaust museum hosting singer Keren Peles on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The performance by Peles, who has spoken out against the government’s policies, reportedly angered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. The premier’s office said the report was false.

In addition to rising outcry over Kisch, earlier this year the government granted oversight over educational vendors in public schools to far-right MK Avi Maoz, who espouses racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-pluralist and misogynist views.

Additionally, as the academic school year began on Friday, the education system faced a shortfall of thousands of teachers that has yet to be filled, creating severe problems in schools around the country.

With the branches of government set to see an unprecedented showdown as the High Court begins to hear petitions against the overhaul, protest organizers announced a march will take place September 7-9, beginning in the northern city of Safed and ending at Tel Hai. A second march will be held from four locations in the south, to Beersheba.

Tens of thousands of protesters joined a mass march to the Knesset in Jerusalem in July as part of a last-ditch effort to stop the coalition from passing a bill curtailing judicial oversight over its decisions. The legislation ultimately passed despite their efforts.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators wave Israeli flags as they march into Jerusalem on July 22, 2023, during a multi-day march that started in Tel Aviv to protest the government’s judicial overhaul legislation ahead of a vote on the first such law in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the legislative push to weaken the judiciary on hold amid the Knesset’s summer recess, anti-government demonstrators have increasingly highlighted other grievances during recent protests, including recent incidents of discrimination against women, the sway religious parties hold on the ruling coalition, and now the education system.

Last week, protesters highlighted surging violent crime in Arab communities, as the government faces increased criticism over its response to record homicide numbers.

Some 100,000 people took part in the Tel Aviv rally, according to media assessments and the CrowdSolutions firm cited by Channel 13.

Protesters walk past mock coffins bearing slogans denouncing crime that disproportionately affects Arab communities in Israel, during a demonstration against the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on August 26, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The main protest at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street included a keynote Arab speaker, Tira Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay. The mayor’s address came days after Tira municipal director Abdel Rahman Kashua was shot dead in the central city.

Kashua’s killing was followed a day later by a quadruple homicide in the northern town of Abu Snan, one of the deadliest single acts of criminal violence this year.

“Blood is flowing in our streets, and what do the governments of Israel do? Dismantle the police, halt budgets that are supposed to go toward education,” al-Hay said in his address, referencing funds frozen by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for Arab municipalities.

“I have been mayor for 15 years, the Arab community has suffered from discrimination and abandonment for a long time, yet this is the worst government that has ever been.”

Tira Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay speaks at an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on August 26, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Al-Hay alleged “a decision to leave us dealing in blood. Whoever appoints [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir to keep us safe, doesn’t want to keep us safe. A minister who doesn’t want us in the country will protect us? A minister who hates Arabs will protect Arab children?”

A poll published Friday showed respondents rated Ben Gvir as the worst-performing minister, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant getting the highest rating.

In March, Netanyahu briefly fired Gallant following the latter’s calls to freeze legislation on the judicial overhaul. In turn, widespread protests erupted, causing the government to freeze legislation and hold negotiations with the opposition at the President’s Residence.

The talks ended in June without a compromise, leading to the passage of the first overhaul bill – the “reasonableness” law, which curtails judicial review – 64-0, with the opposition boycotting the vote.

The opposition walked away from the talks, saying the coalition had acted in bad faith on a related issue: its efforts to avoid staffing and convening the committee that elects new judges, allegedly in a bid to wait until the composition of the panel could be changed in order to give the government more influence.

In July, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid demanded an 18-month freeze on legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary as a condition for his Yesh Atid party to return to negotiations with the coalition on judicial reforms. Netanyahu’s Likud rejected the request.

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