Organizers nix Saturday overhaul protests over Gaza threat; some vow to rally anyway

Leaders cancel demonstrations, including in Tel Aviv, due to concerns of possible rocket attacks; some groups will still march to Kaplan Street, others vow to protest in north

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Organizers of weekly protests against the government and its judicial overhaul plans said Saturday’s demonstrations were canceled due to the fighting between Israel and Gaza terrorists. But some activists objected and vowed to march anyway.

“Our foremost concern is the safety of our people who are defending democracy,” organizers said in a Friday statement announcing the cancellation of the main protest event on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

Organizers said they’d been in touch with police and security officials about safety concerns.

“Out of responsibility for the safety [of protesters], we have decided to put off the demonstration. We continue to keep our fingers on the pulse. If we see the government is advancing changes tied to the regime coup, we will come out to the streets in full force,” they said.

During the past several days of fighting between Israel and Gaza terrorists, some rockets have reached the center of the country, setting off sirens in Tel Aviv.

“Bringing 100,000 people to Kaplan at a time when there could be a rocket siren is dangerous,” one of the organizers told Ynet.

While there will be no central rally, some protest groups are still planning to march from Ha’Bima to Kaplan Street.

Other protesters have vowed to attend rallies north of Tel Aviv, with many seeing it as an opportunity to increase presence at the protests that see relatively smaller crowds on a weekly basis.

Preparations were underway in cities such as Haifa and at northern interchanges for the potentially larger crowds.

Anti-government protesters have gathered in Tel Aviv every Saturday night for the past 18 weeks, since the government announced its plan to overhaul the judiciary. Though the plan is now paused as the coalition and opposition hold negotiations for a potential compromise reform plan, many in the coalition have warned they could push forward with the effort to curb the courts, and weekly rallies have continued.

Demonstrators protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Many protests across the country were canceled, but in Tel Aviv, some protesters said they’d show up on Kaplan Street anyway, and elsewhere local organizers rejected the decision, saying it did not represent their views.

Dissenting voices urged protesters to come to the protest site on Kaplan Street despite the cancellation, and even though there would not be a stage or speeches. They said there would be a march starting at 7 p.m. from Dizengoff Circle and an event at Kaplan Street at 8 p.m.

Protest organizers in Haifa, located in northern Israel and farther from the Gaza threats, invited protesters from other parts of the country to attend a rally in the city if their local demonstrations had been canceled.

The Crime Minister protest group accused the government of launching the Gaza operation in order to bolster its flagging support among the public.

“Therefore tomorrow we’ll go to Kaplan to continue the fight,” the group said.

“If you don’t fight, you don’t win. Those who give up on their right to protest, are inviting a dictatorship,” Crime Minister said. Several smaller protest groups also promised to show up.

???? כולנו מבינים היטב מה מהות ומטרת מבצע "שובו מנדטים" בתיזמון הנוכחי,לכן מחר 13.5 נגיע לקפלן כדי להמשיך להלחם ללא לאות על המדינה והדמוקרטיה.נתראה בקפלן 19:30

Posted by Crime Minister on Friday, May 12, 2023

Authorities on Friday also canceled a Saturday concert of ’90s boy band the Backstreet Boys in the central city of Rishon Lezion due to the threat of rocket attacks.

The decision came a day after Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen played a show in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park despite the threat of rocket fire from Gaza, with an estimated 40,000 people attending.

That decision had come under some criticism as well, but Geffen said authorities had okayed the performance and told attendants: “No one will silence Israel, ever!”

Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Thursday, video captured by someone in Geffen’s audience showed Iron Dome interceptors exploding in the sky in the distance, taking down rockets fired toward the country’s central Gush Dan region, though it was not possible to assess how close they were to Tel Aviv.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday afternoon that as of 4 p.m., Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had launched 937 rockets and mortars at Israel since the beginning of Operation Shield and Arrow on Tuesday.

It said 761 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 181 fell short in Gaza. Air defense systems intercepted 296 of the rockets, marking a 91% interception rate of projectiles heading for populated areas. Several landed within towns, killing one and injuring several others, as well as causing damage.

The military says it has carried out strikes against 254 sites belonging to Islamic Jihad.

International mediators have been working toward a ceasefire between the sides.

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