PM drums up support for right-wing ‘million person’ rally, but won’t join – report

Netanyahu confidants in talks with ultra-Orthodox parties to convince Haredi communities to participate in protest, TV news says

Rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. The Netanyahu banner reads: 'Many politicians; one leader.' (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. The Netanyahu banner reads: 'Many politicians; one leader.' (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to drum up support for a mass rally on Thursday backing his hardline government’s push to overhaul the judiciary, but he won’t speak at the event, a TV report said Sunday.

The planned “million person rally” in Jerusalem on Thursday, a day after Independence Day, was announced earlier this month in an attempt to demonstrate vast public support for the contentious judicial overhaul plan, a legislative bid he paused late last month amid fierce opposition and widespread protests that peaked after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who warned about the security implications of the proposals. (He later rescinded Gallant’s sacking.)

Multiple polls over the past few weeks have shown that the legislation in its current form is broadly unpopular.

Anti-overhaul protesters have been gathering for nearly four months against the plans, which, if implemented, will bring almost all judicial appointments under government control and radically curb the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

Critics say such a remake will shift much of the judiciary’s power into the government’s hands, and will make Israel a democracy in name only, shielding leaders from accountability while leaving minority rights largely unprotected and subject to the whims of Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

Proponents say the changes are needed to rein in what they see as an overly activist court.

According to Channel 12 on Sunday, Netanyahu has been working to drum up support for the right-wing rally on Thursday, and pushing close associates to “ensure” the demonstration’s success while investing the “necessary resources.”

The report also said talks were ongoing with Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners in a bid to encourage Haredi communities to take part in the rally, but those efforts have yet to yield the desired results.

Right-wing Israelis rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

According to the report, Netanyahu sees the planned rally as an “expression of public legitimacy” for his hardline government, made up of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties that have backed his ruling Likud party’s judicial overhaul legislation.

Rally organizers said Netanyahu plans to forgo the event for “security reasons,” according to the report. But Channel 12 cited people “close to Netanyahu” who said he did not want the demonstration to become a support rally for his leadership.

Organizers promised that the rally on Thursday will be “the largest demonstration in history” to support judicial “reform,” with a “call to government ministers and Knesset members: You have received a mandate to correct the injustice! We will not be second-class citizens!”

The planned rally is being accompanied by a funding campaign to “carry out the most important demonstration for the future of the State of Israel,” according to organizers. “Thanks to you, they won’t steal our elections!” they said in a press statement.

On Saturday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the judicial overhaul, called on supporters to attend the demonstration, “to stand between the Knesset building and the Supreme Court building and say with unprecedented force: the people demand legal reform. The mandate received by the right-wing government must be realized.”

Supporters of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan rally near the Knesset in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

Previous pro-government demonstrations in Jerusalem and other parts of the country last month were marred by violence when extremist protesters attacked an Arab taxi driver, anti-overhaul protesters, passersby, and journalists.

Netanyahu paused the overhaul legislation in late March to allow for compromise talks with the opposition, hosted by President Isaac Herzog. But opponents of the plan have kept up the anti-government protests, underscoring the deep mistrust in the current political atmosphere, as key coalition members have vowed to press ahead with their legislative bid in the next Knesset session. Netanyahu has said the overhaul will pass “one way or another” in the course of the session.

The Knesset is scheduled to return from its month-long recess on April 30, with a law to put judicial appointments within political control, a central pillar of the legislative package, ready to be passed within days.

An update from President Isaac Herzog’s office on Sunday said that the ongoing compromise talks were progressing, despite the “complex and fundamental” topics being debated.

“It is important to note that the conversations are being held in a professional and positive atmosphere, with a commitment to reaching agreements,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CBS News in interview aired April 23, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu told CBS News that a “blanket overhaul” of Supreme Court decisions “is not going to happen” under his planned judicial shakeup and insisted that Israel would remain a democracy.

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