For the 30th week in a row but for the first time since the first piece of judicial overhaul legislation passed, mass nationwide rallies were held against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to weaken the judiciary.
Monday’s vote saw lawmakers approve a measure 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.
Protest organizers have vowed to keep the demonstrations going.
Hundreds of thousands of people protested across the country against the overhaul. Some 174,000 people gathered for the main rally at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv Saturday, according to Channel 13 news, which cited the Crowd Solutions firm. Tens of thousands of others protested in some 150 other cities, towns and intersections across the country, including a reported 25,000 in Haifa, thousands in Jerusalem, and what organizers said were 17,000 in Kfar Saba.
In Tel Aviv, three separate marches set off in different directions across the city from Kaplan Street after the main demonstration. Some blocked traffic on Tel Aviv’s main Ayalon Highway, with police dispersing demonstrators.
Toward the end of the protest, a vehicle rammed through a group of anti-overhaul protesters in south Tel Aviv, lightly injuring a protester.
ברגע זה בדרום תל אביב: נהג דרס מפגינים בזמן צעדת מחאה ברחוב קטן, ועשה זאת פעם נוספת כשהמפגין שבסרטון עמד מולו.
הנהג ברח מהמקום לפני שהמשטרה הגיעה אליו. לדברי עדי ראייה, לפני כן הוא שלף סכין לעברם pic.twitter.com/ZVsSyHOGq3
— רן שמעוני Ran Shimoni (@ran_shimoni) July 29, 2023
Eyewitnesses claimed that shortly before the filmed incident, the driver rammed other protesters and then got out with a knife and threatened protesters who sought to photograph his license plate.
Police said the driver had been apprehended but labeled the incident an accident.
Prof. Shikma Bressler, one of the main leaders of the protest movement, told protesters in Tel Aviv: “We have reached the end of a stirring week in which all the masks have finally come off.”
צעדה בהובלת הוורדים. קפלן- דרך השלום. עכשיו.
קרדיט: נעמה זאבי רבלין pic.twitter.com/66IzANdqS7
— ????️????????ShAuLi (@Shaulirena) July 29, 2023
“We understand that the seemingly moderate members of the coalition have become, perhaps unwilling or perhaps deliberately, full partners of the extremists in the government,” Bressler said.
“All the collaborators of the dictatorship knew: no one is impressed by talk of condemning the predatory legislation a second after you raised a hand in its favor. No one is impressed by talk of unity, a second after you ran over the majority of the people,” she added.
“If the government does not come to its senses, the consequences will hit us hard,” former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel told demonstrators in Tel Aviv and urged the coalition to halt the process and reach broad agreements.
“We never experienced such destruction of values in such a short time, not by our external enemies, but by government policy. Despite the promises to pass the legislation only with a broad agreement, last week the first law in the regime coup — cancelation of the ‘reasonableness’ test — passed without broad agreement, but with broad opposition. The damage is enormous.”
Netanyahu said this week he would seek to reach a broad consensus on the other elements of the proposal, but gave the opposition a November deadline to reach compromise agreements. He was also ambivalent, in US media interviews, on whether he would honor a High Court decision to strike down the reasonability law; the justices are to hear petitions against it in September.
Several Likud lawmakers in recent days have suggested they will not support any further overhaul legislation without broader consensus with the opposition. Likud on Saturday denied any dissension in its ranks, claiming: “We all want to reach agreements and need to make the maximum effort to do so, but we will not give the other side a veto.”
זה לא קפלן זאת נתניה. דיי מטורף שאחד ממוקדי ההפגנות הגדולים ביותר כבר 30 שבועות ברציפות נמצא בנתניה. כנראה שהירידה של הליכוד והקואליציה בסקרים היא לא טעות. pic.twitter.com/JW5aRhLB3l
— yayafink (יאיא פינק) (@yayafink) July 29, 2023
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz attended a rally in Rosh Ha’ayin and in a short speech thanked protesters for their efforts.
“I really believe, you will also be part of the solution because this thing we will solve together, with all the citizens of Israel. First of all, we’ll make sure no harm comes to democracy, and after that, we will agree on the way to continue together,” he said.
Addressing protesters in Netanya, National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former justice minister, slammed Netanyahu for his comments to US media, saying the country watched as he “squirmed and failed to say one thing: that he will respect a court ruling.”
“I want to say in a clear way: a prime minister that doesn’t respect a court ruling has lost legitimacy in that moment,” Sa’ar said.
Lihi Lapid, wife of opposition leader Yair Lapid, told protesters in Rehovot that the coalition’s approval of the reasonableness law this week proved it did not care about the many consequences that critics say it will have on the country.
Lapid said she was fearful as an Israeli mother, who must send her children to the army.
“And we Jewish Israeli mothers, from the center, right and left, are ready to carry this fear and worry, who see parents that have paid the terrible price,” she said.
“We are allowed to ask — what country are we sending our kids to protect? A country where it is okay for two parties to have no female representative? A country that doesn’t accept our LGBT children? If these laws pass, will I still be able to stand here and speak?”
She then described her struggle to ensure the rights of her daughter, Yaeli, who has autism, which causes her to be non-verbal.
“Together with hundreds of thousands of parents that fight for the voice of their children, I learned, it is forbidden to throw up our hands. It is forbidden to allow anyone to take your voice away from you,” Lapid said.
In Jerusalem, the popular Israeli hip-hop/funk band Hadag Nahash played a mini-concert for the thousands of protesters that rallied outside the President’s Residence.
הדג נחש ממשיכים בשירי מחאה מול בית הנשיא pic.twitter.com/U4MdhhhHJG
— ????️????????ShAuLi (@Shaulirena) July 29, 2023
Lead singer Sha’anan Streett told the crowd, “we bow our heads” in support of all those demonstrating nationwide.
“We will always be with you,” Streett said, accusing the government of tearing the nation apart and dismissing the coalition’s assertion the overhaul legislation passed this week was minor.
Earlier Saturday evening, hundreds of people blocked the Gome Junction in northern Israel, and thousands blocked a main road in Rehovot, as well as the Karkur Junction.
המשטרה עוצרת נער בן 15. אחרי 20 דקות של שיחות הפחדה לנער ולהוריו, ואחרי שמאות חסמו את מגרש החניה בו עמדה הניידת, הנער שוחרר, כנראה תוך התניה שיעזוב את המקום. כרכור הערב pic.twitter.com/S8k7ABWGAy
— לירי בורק שביט (@lirishavit) July 29, 2023
A 15-year-old boy was arrested, then released shortly after for taking part in blocking the Karkur Junction.
Police also said they opened an investigation into signs at a Tel Aviv demonstration that featured the faces and names of a handful of officers who allegedly used excessive force against them at recent rallies, a move denounced by a civil rights group.
The passage of the first law Monday sparked massive backlash, with a number of global credit agencies issuing special reports warning of the negative consequences of the overhaul and the significant risks to Israel’s economy.
Netanyahu and other top officials have dismissed the threats, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Religious Zionism party, openly blaming the anti-overhaul protests.
Money moving abroad; talk of relocation
In the wake of the reasonableness law’s passage, a survey on Tuesday by Israel’s Channel 13 found that over a quarter of Israelis are considering leaving the country.
The poll found that 28% of respondents were weighing a move abroad, 64% were not, and 8% were unsure. Over half of the survey’s respondents — 54% — also said they feared the judicial overhaul was harming Israel’s security, and 56% were worried about civil war. Israel’s opinion polls can often be unreliable, but they influence politicians and voters.
Separately, a WhatsApp group for doctors seeking advice for relocating overseas was opened after the vote, drawing over 3,000 physicians and leading a top Health Ministry official to implore them to say.
A new report this week also found that almost 70% of Israeli startups are taking active steps to pull money and shift parts of their businesses outside the country due to the uncertainty created by the judicial overhaul.
The New York Times reported Friday on a company that specializes in helping people relocate to and from Israel seeing a sharp uptick in activity, with 90% of queries about leaving Israel.
Shay Obazanek, a manager for relocation company Ocean Group, said there was now “extreme demand — it is extraordinary.”
“It used to be people would go for a personal experience — ‘I got a job offer,’ ‘It can advance me financially,’ ‘We’ll go as a family for two to three years and come back.’ Now they talk about leaving, and going only in one direction,” he told The Times.
“The motivation is so high that people are willing to compromise and leave even if they don’t have a job offer,” said Obazanek. “They’re willing to accept a drop in their standard of living because they’re so worried that their freedom of movement will be curtailed. In a word, they’re scared of a dictatorship, and they worry that if they wait, it may be too late.”
Financial advisers are also fielding a flood of questions about how to open back accounts abroad and move assets, according to the report.
One financial consultant told the Times that, in recent months, he has helped private individuals transfer significant sums of money from Israel to Europe and the United States, and sold his Tel Aviv area apartment to convert half of the proceeds into dollars.
“I have quite a lot of friends who recently bought houses and apartments in Cyprus and Greece,” he told the Times. “Everyone is playing with the idea — ‘Where could we go?’”