Over 1 in 5 Israelis have protested against overhaul and numbers are rising — poll

IDI survey finds growing fear of potential civil war; most oppose reservists refusing to volunteer for service; 40.5% agree with Smotrich’s claim there’s no Palestinian people

Demonstrators at a rally against the government's judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Demonstrators at a rally against the government's judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A poll published Tuesday showed that increasing numbers of Israelis are joining protests against the judicial overhaul, with 21 percent of Israelis saying in March that they had taken part in at least one demonstration, compared to 13% in January and 18.5% in February.

The Israeli Voice Index, produced monthly by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) think tank, found that the rate of those who have protested was 23% among Jews and 11% among Arabs.

While participation rates were higher among those who identify politically with the center or left, the increase was seen across the political spectrum — on the left from 46% to 70%, among those who defined themselves as centrist from 18% to 29%, and for those who identify as right-wing from 6% to 9%.

While a slight majority of Israelis (51%) still think civil war is unlikely, an increasing number of respondents were concerned about the possibility, with 41% believing there is a high likelihood of violence compared to the 31% who expressed such a concern in January.

Of those who believe there is a chance of violence — 57% are politically left-wing, 48% are at the center and 31% identify as right-wing.

The survey also asked Jewish Israelis about military reservists refusing to volunteer, with 64% of respondents saying it should be forbidden for them to not turn up for training and only 24% believing it was permissible.

IDF reservists block Route 1 to protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul, March 1, 2023 (Courtesy/Brothers in Arms)

The numbers dropped further when asked whether reservists should refuse to participate in service that is part of the IDF’s routine operational activities, for example Israel Air Force pilots, with 59% saying it was forbidden and 29% saying it was permissible.

An overwhelming majority of respondents were against reservists declaring an intention not to show up if mobilized during time of war — 77.5%.

The survey also found that 40.5% of Israelis agreed with far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s statement that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.

While 84% of Arab Israelis disagreed with the statement, 83% of Jewish Israelis on the left, 56% among the center and 21% on the right disagreed with the comment.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks in Paris on March 19, 2023. (Ynet screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Last month, Smotrich said the Palestinian people were “an invention” from the last century and that people like himself and his grandparents were the “real Palestinians.” The comments by the minister, who has a history of making inflammatory statements against Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, non-Orthodox Jews and the LGBTQ community, prompted international outrage.

The IDI poll additionally found that 47% of Israelis think the government should take into consideration the view of the US administration regarding its highly divisive efforts to weaken the judiciary, while 37% think they should not. Last week, US President Joe Biden said Israel “cannot continue down this road.”

The survey came after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated throughout the country Saturday against the overhaul plans, indicating that the massive protest movement remained strong even as the coalition has paused the legislation to allow dialogue with the opposition.

With opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highly distrustful of his overtures — and some coalition members vowing to pick up soon right where they left off — protesters are demanding that instead of pausing the legislation to weaken the courts and politicize judge selection, the coalition shelve the bills completely.

In a new development, many demonstrators at Saturday’s Tel Aviv protest waved American flags alongside Israeli ones, to voice their support for the US after Biden expressed his opposition to the Israeli government’s conduct, which led the right to lash out at Washington.

A protester holds an American flag at a rally against the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Netanyahu announced he was suspending the legislation last week as opposition to the judicial overhaul intensified, with mass spontaneous protests seeing hundreds of thousands pour into the streets — followed by a national strike — in an unprecedented protest against Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had warned about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals and called for a halt to allow for talks.

The premier indicated the “time-out” would last until the Knesset’s next session, beginning April 30, meaning the pause would mostly take place when the Knesset would be in recess anyway.

But he stressed the overhaul would end up passing “one way or another,” and the “lost balance” between the branches of government would be restored. “We will not give up on the path for which we were elected,” he vowed.

Senior officials involved in the talks said Friday that the negotiations were already dead in the water due to the coalition’s insistence that it end up with control of the Judicial Selection Committee.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

That demand is a non-starter for the opposition, essentially ending the chances for the negotiations before the talks got off the ground, officials involved in the process told Channel 12 news.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation — which would give the coalition almost complete control over all judicial appointments, and radically constrain the High Court — would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

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