Leaders of the ongoing protest movement against the government’s judicial overhaul plans pledged to further intensify their opposition next week, as demonstrators blocked roads and rallied outside the homes of coalition members on Thursday evening.
Speaking at a press conference, organizers called for a demonstration “such as has never been seen before in Israel” next Tuesday, a day after the Knesset is due to hold the first of three plenum votes on a bill that would block courts from exercising judicial review over the reasonableness of government decisions.
״We are going to intensify our struggle,” they said.
Addressing National Unity party chief Benny Gantz’s call Thursday for the coalition to resume judicial reform talks, the protesters reiterated their demand for no negotiations until the judicial legislation is shelved altogether.
“The country is in great and immediate danger,” said Shikma Bressler, a physicist and grassroots organizer.
Moshe Radman, another protest leader, vowed the demonstrators would continue “exercising our democratic right to protest with all strength.”
He urged employers to give their workers the day off on Tuesday to demonstrate.
Former prime minister and IDF chief of staff Ehud Barak said Thursday that pilots and other elite military members should refuse to continue to serve in the Israel Defense Forces if the reasonableness bill becomes law.
The bill, which would prevent the judiciary from using the “reasonableness” doctrine to review decisions made by the cabinet, government ministers and unspecified other elected officials, was approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on Tuesday and is set for its first reading next week. The coalition reportedly aims to have it enacted into law before the Knesset breaks for summer recess at the end of July.
Barak said in a TV interview with Channel 12 Thursday that “when a law like that passes a first reading [in the Knesset], it is passed in order to prepare it for its second and third [final] readings. That marks the sounding of an alarm, a genuine alarm for the entire country.
“On that day,” Barak went on, “I expect the pilots, the Military Intelligence Special Operations Division, to all repeat their warning: Netanyahu, watch out, the minute you try to turn the first reading into an actual law, we will not serve a dictatorship. Period.”
Thursday evening saw demonstrators rally near the homes of numerous coalition lawmakers, most notably two of the leading figures in the judicial shakeup push — Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the latter of whom heads the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Other protests were held at the homes of ministers and MKs from the ruling Likud party, including Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Economy Minister Nir Barkat and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel. Protesters also demonstrated earlier in the day at Gamliel’s house in north Tel Aviv.
Police said two protesters were arrested in Tel Aviv for attacking officers and disturbing public order, near the home of Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party. Two people were also arrested outside Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana’s home in the coastal city for disturbing public order.
Coalition members have recently upped their complaints about the rallies outside their homes and urged a tougher police response (though they often supported similar demonstrations when in opposition to the previous government).
Protesters marched on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway and briefly blocked Route 2 along the coast. They also blocked roads near Levin’s home in Modiin and in Ramat Gan.
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“The violence against protesters must stop. The government’s attempts to forcibly suppress democracy will be met with determined resistance,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said in a statement. “The attempt by Levin and [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir to turn the police into a violent militia won’t succeed.”
The protests came after roads across the country were blocked for a number of hours Wednesday night by spontaneous demonstrations after the Tel Aviv police chief announced he would resign rather than be transferred to a more marginal role.
Amichai Eshed said he had been removed from his role due to what he said were “political considerations” and for refusing to use “disproportionate force,” following what right-wing critics claimed was his soft handling of protesters against the overhaul.
Thousands took to the streets after his announcement, with the largest of the over 40 demonstrations reported nationwide taking place on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, where police clashed with protesters who blocked traffic and lit bonfires. The thoroughfare was blocked for several hours as police struggled to restore order, before deploying mounted officers and water cannons to forcibly disperse protesters after midnight.
One driver stuck in traffic plowed through the demonstration, apparently while filming the incident on his phone, injuring at least one protester before being pulled over and arrested by police. He was reportedly released on Thursday morning under certain limitations.
Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center said Thursday that 14 people had been brought in for medical treatment from the protest. Six of them had wounds to their eyes, one of whom required surgery.
Police said they arrested 15 people in Tel Aviv. All of the detainees were released by Thursday morning, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
The Wednesday night protests echoed larger ones that took place across the country in late March, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter raised the alarm regarding the judicial overhaul’s impact on security. Netanyahu went on to freeze the overhaul the following day and later walked back his decision to axe Gallant.
The demonstrations have been ongoing since Levin revealed the overhaul plans in January and recently ramped up again as Netanyahu’s hardline coalition has renewed its efforts to push through some of the relevant laws unilaterally. Opponents say they are a threat to Israel’s democratic character while supporters argue they are needed to curb the powers of a judiciary they say is unrestrained.