Lapid to attend, having skipped last week; Ya'alon to speak

Police, demonstrators prepare for bigger anti-government protests in Tel Aviv

Organizers call rallies in two locations Saturday night to enable more to attend; police expect 100,000 given clear weather forecast, anger over government response to Deri ruling

Israeli protesters attend a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Israeli protesters attend a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police and anti-government demonstrators were preparing for mass protests Saturday evening in Tel Aviv that are expected to draw around 100,000 people according to estimates cited in a Friday night TV report. Other rallies are scheduled for elsewhere in the country, including Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.

Channel 12 reported that the police approved plans to deploy 1,000 officers in Tel Aviv and block vehicle access to key roads starting in the afternoon, as protesters readied for a third consecutive weekend of rallying against plans by the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement radical changes to the judiciary that would limit the powers of the High Court of Justice.

A protest organized by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel was set to begin at 7 p.m. Saturday evening at Habima Square while additional protests organized by other groups will see demonstrators marching nearby, down Kaplan Street to the government complex in Tel Aviv. The organizers said the switch from Habima Square will allow for more people to attend in a somewhat less residential area. The exits to the Ayalon Highway heading north and south from the Hashalom interchange, near the protest, will also be closed to traffic.

Traffic disruptions, including public bus cancellations, are also expected on Menachem Begin Street, Arlozorov Street, Namir Road, Shaul Hamelech Boulevard, and Dubnow Street until the protests conclude Saturday night.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said it would protest under the banner of “‘Freedom. Equality. Quality of government,’ against the dangerous revolution that the new government is planning to advance, a revolution that will destroy Israeli democracy.”

“We will continue to raise our voices against these malicious and dangerous plans,” the group said in a statement, calling for legal protests across the country.

In an assessment Thursday, police predicted larger crowds will turn up this Saturday in Tel Aviv than last week’s demonstration — which was held during heavy rain — of some 80,000, following a clear weather forecast and a bombshell High Court ruling this week declaring Shas chief Aryeh Deri ineligible to be a government minister.

Police officials also expressed fear of clashes with right-wing counter-protesters, who have called on social media for pro-government activists to take to the streets, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Smaller protests are also expected to take place in Jerusalem, Haifa and other locations across the country.

After skipping last week’s events, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said he would attend this weekend and will reportedly lead a march, alongside other members of the opposition including Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party. Former defense minister and IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon, who bowed out of politics in 2021 and has been a fierce Netanyahu critic, and former deputy attorney-general Dina Zilber are expected to speak at the demonstrations, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Gantz called for Israelis across the political spectrum to come out on Saturday in a video posted to social media on Friday.

“No matter what your political positions are, on Saturday night everyone will take to the streets to tell the government — yes, it is possible to reach broad agreements [to draft reforms more acceptable to the public] but we must not run over what the country’s founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence, and what we built here for 75 years,” he said.

“We march to say yes to reforms and no to vengeful measures that will dismantle Israeli resilience and democracy,” he added.

MK Gideon Sa’ar,  the No. 2 in National Unity, said Friday he would also be attending the protest and called for members of his right-wing New Hope subfaction to join the rally after being absent from the last demonstration.

“We are at the peak of the struggle for the future of Israel. There is no left and right in the struggle to protect the democratic regime. This fateful struggle by the country’s citizens is for the benefit of our children’s future in this land, a struggle forced on us by a dangerous and unrestrained government,” Sa’ar wrote to party activists over the Telegram messaging app.

The Movement for Quality Government explained earlier that there would be two separate protest sites, at Habima Square and on Kaplan Street, due to the expectation that more people will attend this weekend.

The Black Flag protest group, one of the organizers of the Kaplan Street protest, said it has seen an uptick in interest about attending following Wednesday’s High Court ruling on Deri and urged opposition politicians to show up.

“Following the attack on the judicial system over Deri’s disqualification, and the calls from within the coalition to disobey the ruling, the organizers of the demonstration are calling on the heads of the opposition parties to announce that they will come to the mass demonstration and stand at the head of the protest march,” said the group in a statement.

Student Protest, which describes itself as a nonpartisan group fighting for democracy, vowed it would also join the demonstrations. The group on Monday launched a one-hour coordinated “strike” at universities against the reforms.

Last weekend’s protests were focused on the government’s proposal to massively alter the judicial system, with plans to increase political control over the selection of judges and bar the High Court from exercising judicial oversight on Knesset laws and government policies.

Following the justices’ ruling Wednesday that Deri could not serve as interior and health minister in the government due to recent and previous criminal convictions, leaving the coalition scrambling for a way to bypass the decision and give Deri another high-ranking role. The Shas leader is said to be in talks with Netanyahu for the alternate prime minister role, though disagreements are said to remain.

Coalition members have denounced the court’s decision and said they would seek to bypass it.

After the ruling, the anti-Netanyahu protest group Crime Minister called on the public to take to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, and Modiin.

At last weekend’s rally, police estimated that some 80,000 people gathered at Habima Square and the surrounding streets, while smaller demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Haifa.

Among those in attendance in Tel Aviv last weekend were former opposition leader Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Barak, Gantz, former IDF chief and National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot, Labor leader Merav Michaeli, and Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas.

Following the protest, Netanyahu brushed off the criticism at the weekly cabinet meeting and argued that the planned changes would strengthen democracy rather than hasten its end. He also maintains that the government is carrying out the will of the people.

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