Police detain man over graffiti calling justice minister ‘enemy of the people’

Resident of Modiin in his 60s questioned after wall outside Yariv Levin’s home vandalized; separately, cops detain man suspected of threatening Netanyahu on social media

Graffiti denouncing Justice Minister Yariv Levin as 'the enemy of the people' is seen spray-painted on a wall at his home in the central city of Modiin, on March 17, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)
Graffiti denouncing Justice Minister Yariv Levin as 'the enemy of the people' is seen spray-painted on a wall at his home in the central city of Modiin, on March 17, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

Police on Saturday detained a man for questioning over graffiti denouncing Justice Minister Yariv Levin that was spray painted on an outer wall of his home in Modiin.

The graffiti found on Thursday branded Levin “the enemy of the people,” and was condemned by government and opposition lawmakers.

Police said the suspect in his 60s, also a resident of Modiin, is being questioned at a local police station over the incident and motive.

Levin, a top Likud party confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a leading figure in the government’s push to overhaul the judicial system, which has been met with mass protests.

The graffiti was spray-painted after mass anti-overhaul demonstrations that included the blocking of roads and disruptions across the country. Police detained 21 people Thursday in several incidents, including two motorists accused of pepper-spraying demonstrators who blocked the road.

On Saturday evening, demonstrators gathered across the country for the 11th straight week of protests against the government’s proposals.

Protesters march during a rally against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Also Saturday, police detained a man in his 70s from central Israel suspected of threatening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a social media video. He was later released to house arrest.

The suspect, from the Sharon region in central Israel is suspected of recording a video in which he “expresses himself, among other things, toward the PM, in a manner that constitutes a suspicion of the offense of threats,” police said.

The incidents came as the coalition moves ahead with its divisive legislation to radically restructure the justice system, after President Isaac Herzog’s alternative proposal for reforms was immediately rejected by coalition chiefs.

The coalition has said it is open to negotiations over the reform but without preconditions, and has resolutely advanced the legislative package which Levin has said he aims to pass into law by the end of the month. The opposition has demanded that the legislative process of the shakeup be halted for a certain time to allow talks on a compromise.

Levin has appeared to be the least open to compromise on any element of the deal. Numerous reports in recent weeks — denied by the Prime Minister’s Office — have indicated that Netanyahu has sought to soften the current legislation but received fierce pushback from Levin, who has threatened to quit.

In a briefing to reporters in Berlin on Thursday, Netanyahu said that he was “attentive to what is happening among the people,” and believes the coalition must act “responsibly” to come to an agreement, but again rejected Herzog’s outline.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a debate and a vote in the Knesset plenum, March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government’s plan, as it stands, would allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians. Opponents argue it will radically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

The president’s proposed framework, which was published on a new website as he spoke, addresses critical aspects of the relationship between the branches of government, including giving greater constitutional heft to the Basic Laws; how judges are selected; judicial review over Knesset legislation; and the authority of government legal advisers and the attorney general. It would also enshrine some fundamental civil rights in the Basic Laws that are not explicitly protected at present.

Despite 11 weeks of mass protests against the government’s plans and stark warnings from business, military, legal, and financial officials in Israel and around the world, the coalition has not paused or slowed down any of its planned legislation. On Sunday, the Knesset is scheduled to vote to give final approval to a bill that would severely limit the ability of courts or lawmakers to remove a prime minister who is unfit for office. Further votes to finalize other portions of the plan, including the highly contentious override clause, are expected by the end of the month.

Herzog has led calls in recent weeks for opposition and coalition lawmakers to sit down for negotiations, urged the coalition to “abandon” the current legislation, and warned Wednesday that Israel is heading toward a “real civil war” amid the bitter national dispute over the overhaul plan.

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