Protesters declare ‘week of paralysis’ ahead of government passing core overhaul bill

Demonstrators picket outside several ministers’ homes, commando veterans plan Saturday rally outside Gallant’s house, before another week of contentious legislative action

Fireworks explodes before protesters marching in a demonstration against the government's proposed judicial overhaul legislation in the central city of Bnei Barak on March 23, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Fireworks explodes before protesters marching in a demonstration against the government's proposed judicial overhaul legislation in the central city of Bnei Barak on March 23, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul on Friday declared a nationwide “week of paralysis” that will begin on Sunday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government would pass a core tenet of the legislation in the coming days.

Escalating nationwide protests have roiled the country since the government announced its plans to severely curtain the judiciary in early January. In addition to the public demonstrations, a growing number of military reservists have vowed to halt or already stopped their service over the legislation, sparking deep fears in the security establishment for the country’s future.

Even before the start of the “week of paralysis,” protest organizers speculated that the largest-yet demonstrations against the overhaul will take place on Saturday evening. Saturday protests are usually the largest of the week, drawing hundreds of thousands in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities across the country.

Protest leaders declared plans for targeted demonstrations against ministers and MKs on Sunday and Monday, and vowed mass rallies in “days of paralysis” on Wednesday and Thursday, including a “giant protest” at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The organizers also announced additional protest events on Thursday that they said were being kept under wraps.

“We’re going into the most fateful week in the history of Israel,” protest leaders said in a statement. “This destructive government is tearing the nation apart and dismantling the military and the economy.”

“Facing the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship, millions will take to the streets to defend the State of Israel and the Declaration of Independence,” the statement said. “Every citizen who wants to live in a democracy must come out to the streets and oppose the dictatorship at all costs.”

On Friday, dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the homes of several ministers.

At a rally outside the home of Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, demonstrators scuffled with residents of the Rehovot neighborhood. Video from the scene showed one of Silman’s neighbors discharging pepper spray at the protesters.

Police detained three people for questioning after the incident.

Protesters also picketed outside the homes of Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli in Kibbutz Hanaton, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter in Ashkelon,  Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana in Givatayim, Economy Minister Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, and Likud MK Moshe Saada in Mazkeret Batya.

A large protest of veteran naval commandos from the Shayetet 13 unit is slated to demonstrate outside Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s home on Saturday afternoon.

Protesters held a nationwide “day of paralysis” on Thursday. Police arrested at least 92 people across the country, and deployed horses and water cannons to clear demonstrators blocking roads in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The protests have also followed ministers abroad, including rallies against Netanyahu in London on Friday.

Dozens of Israeli ex-pats gathered outside his hotel and outside 10 Downing Street when Netanyahu arrived for his meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The protesters waved Israeli flags and chanted “de-mo-cra-cy” and “shame” as Netanyahu approached the British prime minister’s residence.

Demonstrators against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near Dowing Street in central London as Netanyahu is hosted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, March 24, 2023 (Sharon Shochat/#DefendIsraeliDemocracy)

The vow to intensify the protests next week came a day after Netanyahu declared that his government will continue to charge ahead with the plan “responsibly,” while aiming to pass a central plank of the overhaul next week — a bill to put key Supreme Court appointments directly in coalition control. Netanyahu insisted that “we don’t want a controlled court, we want a balanced court.”

In addition to the public demonstrations, a growing number of military reservists have taken action in protest of the government.

On Friday, 200 Israeli Air Force pilots, 100 doctors in the military reserves and dozens of personnel from the prestigious Unit 8200 intelligence branch said they will refuse service in protest, joining hundreds of other military members who have already made that vow, or stopped showing up for service. The military protesters include some of the most elite service members, including senior combat pilots.

The government has also moved ahead with other legislation that has incensed its opponents, including passing a law on Thursday to shield Netanyahu from a court order to recuse himself.

After that law passed, Netanyahu announced he would ignore a conflict of interest deal that had allowed him to govern during his ongoing corruption trial, and would henceforth directly involve himself in the effort to overhaul the judiciary.

In response, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara informed Netanyahu on Friday that he has violated the conflict of interest agreement and any further involvement in the coalition’s judicial overhaul would be “illegal and tainted by a conflict of interest.”

Also Friday, Netanyahu’s son Yair, announced protests in support of the judicial overhaul at cities around the country on Saturday night, but it was unclear if the events would gain traction.

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges. There have been weekly mass protests for nearly three months against the planned legislation, and a rising wave of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists, business leaders and more.

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