Tens of thousands were set to rally nationwide on Saturday night against the government’s judicial overhaul for the 38th week, after a week of protests that followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everywhere he went during his visit to the United States.
With Yom Kippur set to begin Sunday evening, the Israel protests will echo the theme of the holiest day in Judaism, and will be held under the banner: “There is no forgiveness for the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship.”
In a statement, protest leaders decried “threats against the judges of the High Court and the intention to disobey their rulings will not be allowed to pass by the people of Israel.”
“Incitement [by Netanyahu and his coalition partners] against American Jewry and against the judges of the High Court of Justice and the protesters, destroys us from the outside and in,” the statement read.
Earlier this week as he left for the US, Netanyahu accused protesters against the judicial overhaul of “joining forces with the PLO and Iran” in their activities against him abroad. In a later statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu was referring to the fact that what he called the “demonstrations against Israel” would be held at the same time as protests by pro-PLO and pro-BDS activists.
Organizers said that Saturday’s demonstrations would be held at approximately 150 locations across the country, with a march from Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square beginning at 7 p.m., and the central rally starting at 8 p.m.
Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, speakers at the main event at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street will include representatives of bereaved families.
Veterans of the war have played a prominent role in the protests against the judicial overhaul since they began after Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented his overhaul plan in January.
On Thursday evening, veterans of the 1973 conflict and family members of some of those killed gathered for a memorial at the Tel Aviv Museum, during which they called for their sacrifices “not to be in vain” and for Israel to remain a democracy, according to protest groups.
The protests came as the High Court deliberated petitions against the reasonableness law, although it is not expected to rule for a number of weeks, if not months.
Earlier this month, an unprecedented panel of all 15 justices presided over a highly charged session in response to petitions against the law, enacted in July, which restricts judicial review of government decisions using the rubric of reasonableness.
The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program that has been passed by the Knesset so far, although legislation that gives the coalition almost complete control of the Judicial Selection Committee, and thus of appointing Israel’s judges, passed its first reading in March and could be passed at short notice at any time.
Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, the reasonableness law faced massive opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.
A court ruling striking down a Basic Law would be unprecedented. If the coalition were not to abide by such a ruling, it would potentially cause a constitutional crisis.
In interviews with Fox News and CNN on Friday, Netanyahu again refused to commit to abide by the court’s ruling.
Netanyahu gave the interviews to the American networks as he came to the end of a weeklong trip to the US, which saw unprecedented demonstrations there as he was followed by protesters wherever he went — from California to New York.
The premier addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, focusing on a potential normalization deal with Saudi Arabia and artificial intelligence, without mention of his government’s legislative program to drastically weaken the judiciary.
As Netanyahu spoke, hundreds of anti-overhaul protesters rallied outside.
Days earlier, Netanyahu held a long-awaited meeting with US President Joe Biden, who reiterated “his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus,” according to the White House.
Netanyahu was also challenged on the divisive legislative package during a Friday meeting with leaders of American Jewry.