'Paralyze the economy until the government understands'

Protest leaders urge strike action to pressure government against judicial overhaul

Former Meretz MK Yair Golan vows to bring economy to a halt until coalition drops changes; Black Flag protest group leader says some businesses are preparing for industrial action

A banner reading 'No freedom, no high tech' displayed at an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. (Times of Israel)
A banner reading 'No freedom, no high tech' displayed at an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. (Times of Israel)

Protest leaders behind the rallies against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and its plans for sweeping changes to the justice system vowed on Sunday to include strike action in their efforts to stop the overhaul they say will destroy the country’s democratic nature.

Speaking a day after attending a massive demonstration in Tel Aviv, former Meretz MK Yair Golan told the Ynet news site that campaigners are aiming for strikes as well as continued public demonstrations.

“I call for the wide use of the two tools available to citizens who are not prepared to wake up one morning and discover they are no longer living in a democracy — and that is the right to demonstrate and the right to strike,” Golan said.

Golan, who was in the past also a deputy commander of the Israel Defense Forces, advocated strikes that will “paralyze the economy until this evil government understands that you can’t simply cancel democracy.”

He said more and more sectors of the economy will join the protests. Dozens of lawyers across the country staged a one-hour strike on Thursday, with protests against the judicial overhaul also held outside the law courts in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Golan warned that weekly demonstrations “just won’t be enough.”

“We must ratchet things up. Netanyahu’s destructive gang will not understand that we’re serious until economic life is paralyzed, until services are not provided and until roads are blocked,” Golan said. “The struggle will be bitter and difficult but with determination, courage and perseverance, we will win. Israel must be saved.”

Former MK Yair Golan attends a protest against the government organized by the Movement for Quality Government, in Tel Aviv on December 17, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Roi Newman, leader of the Black Flag protest group, told Channel 12 news on Saturday that he knows arrangements are being made for “strikes by companies.”

“This protest will widen,” Newman said.

At least 80,000 people gathered at the city’s Habima Square despite pouring rain to denounce the government’s plans for sweeping changes to Israel’s justice system. Similar, smaller rallies were held in Jerusalem and Haifa.

One of the groups organizing the demonstrations, Crime Minister, said the protests will continue in the coming weeks.

Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“This will take time. Don’t make any plans for upcoming Saturdays,” the group said after Saturday night’s rally. “We’ve only just begun.”

In a message directed at Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for alleged corruption, the group wrote, “Do you really think you can just take apart the justice system to evade prison?”

In addition to Crime Minister, the protests were backed by activist groups including Ein Matzav (No Way) and the Black Flags. The three groups and others organized weekly protests demanding Netanyahu’s resignation due to corruption allegations in 2020. Those rallies went on every Saturday night for over six months.

The demonstrations against the new government have also been endorsed by multiple other organizations including the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, the Movement for Quality Government and the Kibbutz Movement.

Israeli protesters attend a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, who was defense minister in the previous government, vowed to continue the fight against the judicial overhaul after he attended Saturday’s rally.

“We will continue to act against this regime’s coup and for reforms — but only with wide agreement,” Gantz said.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli said, “The rain doesn’t scare us and you certainly don’t either. We will not let you destroy our democracy.”

Israelis protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s political allies brushed off the protests and accused the media of biased coverage.

Despite police warnings of possible violence and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s call for police to crack down on any unrest, the demonstrations ended largely peacefully, with only a few minor skirmishes between protesters and law enforcement.

The demonstration marked the second week that opponents of Netanyahu’s government took to the streets to protest Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shackle and curb Israel’s independent judiciary by severely restricting the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and cementing political control over the appointment of judges.

Critics of the plans, which include top current and former judicial and legal officials as well as Netanyahu’s political rivals, say Levin’s reforms would put basic civil and minority rights at risk by all but eliminating the top court’s authority to strike down laws and government decisions, and giving the governing majority control of appointing judges — meaning the judiciary could no longer serve as a brake on abuse and excess by the political leadership.

Proponents of the changes argue that the courts have assumed excessive powers and issued rulings that defy the will of the electorate.

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