‘Our hope is not yet lost’: Mass protests against judicial overhaul enter 31st week

Demonstrations being held at over 150 locations nationwide; protest leaders point to Netanyahu’s refusal to say he’d abide by a court ruling striking down reasonableness law

Anti-overhaul protesters march on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, August 5, 2023. (Michel Braunstein)
Anti-overhaul protesters march on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, August 5, 2023. (Michel Braunstein)

Protesters were demonstrating against the judicial overhaul for the 31st week on Saturday evening, amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued refusal to confirm he would adhere to a potential court ruling striking down the reasonableness law.

Protesters began marching in Tel Aviv from Kikar Dizengoff at 7 p.m. to Kaplan Street for the central rally beginning at 8 p.m.

Speakers at Kaplan were to include legal expert Dr. Ronit Levine-Schnur and former director-general of the finance and transportation ministries Keren Turner, in addition to protest leader Shikma Bressler.

Demonstrators were also set to gather outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Azza Street in Jerusalem starting at 7:15 p.m., under the banner of “because of him, everything is burning.”

As in previous weeks, protests were planned in around 150 locations across the country.

In a statement, protest leaders charged Netanyahu was trying to destroy the rule of law by potentially bringing about a constitutional crisis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem on July 30, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

“Netanyahu, in a malicious campaign, is trying to bring a constitutional crisis that will lead to the destruction of the rule of law in Israel. If a government does not accept the rulings of the Supreme Court, this is a signal to all criminals that they can do whatever they want,” the statement read.

“Israel is in the middle of complete shambles where there is a public debate in which senior ministers say they will not obey the court’s rulings,” the protest leaders said.

“In the face of destruction and devastation, we will show up in the hundreds of thousands this 31st week to stop the disintegration of the country. Our hope is not yet lost,” the statement concluded, quoting the national anthem.

An anti-overhaul protester wrapped in the Israeli flag stands near Border Police officers in Tel Aviv on July 24, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Last week, lawmakers approved a bill that prevents judges from striking down government and ministerial decisions on the basis they are “unreasonable.”

The law was approved by all 64 coalition members — with the entire 56-strong opposition boycotting the vote — despite the sustained mass protests, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures, repeated warnings from allies, chief among them the US, and thousands of military reservists vowing to quit service.

Critics of Netanyahu’s hardline government say removing the standard of reasonability opens the door to corruption and improper appointments of unqualified cronies to important positions.

Petitions against the law have been filed to the High Court, with an unprecedented 15-judge panel to hear them next month.

In recent interviews with US media on the reasonableness law, the prime minister has repeatedly refused to say whether he would adhere to a potential ruling in which the High Court of Justice strikes down a Basic Law, and warned the court against doing so. Other members of his Likud party have said such a ruling would be respected, but would nevertheless cause a crisis in the country.

In addition, many members of the hard-right, religious coalition have called on the government to push ahead with the rest of its judicial overhaul plans, which include giving the ruling majority near-complete power to appoint judges, and radically limiting the court’s oversight of legislation.

The hardline government’s legislation and planned bills have split the nation and triggered the biggest protest movement in Israel’s history, which has offered no indication that it plans to fold.

Thousands of protesters rallied against the overhaul in Tel Aviv on Wednesday in a show of support for the judiciary. Leading the march were former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Avi Nissenkorn along with former Supreme Court justice Yoram Danziger and several other former judges.

Israelis protest against the judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2023. (Courtesy)

The next day, the High Court of Justice asserted in no uncertain terms that it views a recently passed law blocking the court from ordering the prime minister to recuse himself as a highly personal piece of legislation, and implied that it is considering an explosive ruling which would delay implementation of the law. It is unclear when a ruling will be handed down.

Critics accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, of trying to use the overhaul to quash possible judgments against him. He rejects the accusation as well as the legitimacy of the charges against him.

Netanyahu’s hardline coalition government, which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, argues that the proposed changes to the judiciary are needed to ensure a better balance of power between elected officials and judges.

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut and Supreme Court justices seen during a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on August 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, there was growing concern over alleged police brutality toward protesters.

Videos from recent demonstrations have shown police kicking protesters who were lying on the ground, throwing burning pallets toward them, dragging activists by their hair and using violence during arrests of those allegedly blocking roads and highways, including those who were not resisting arrest.

Five officers, including the commander of Tel Aviv police’s Yasam special patrol unit, Yair Hanuna, were questioned Wednesday for allegedly using excessive force against protesters.

As the officers accused of police brutality arrived at the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to be interrogated, dozens of uniformed officers from the unit gathered outside, obstructing the flow of traffic on the Tel Aviv street, and cheering.

AFP contributed to this report.

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