Protesters launch nationwide ‘day of disruption’ against justice overhaul

Around the country, opponents of government’s legislation to hold rallies, marches, strikes and road-blocking; police prepare to thwart ‘disorder’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans outside the Knesset, on February 20, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Protesters rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans outside the Knesset, on February 20, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The protest movement against the government’s justice overhaul plan was set to escalate its tactics on Wednesday in a “national day of disruption.”

The day will include a long list of demonstrations and protest marches around the country, as well as temporary strikes at various workplaces and schools, the blocking of roads, and “house calls” at or near the homes of coalition lawmakers and ministers.

The protest events were laid out in detail on a dedicated website and map (Hebrew), with organizers indicating there were more planned actions that had not been announced publicly.

“Israel will not become a dictatorship — the millions who have taken to the streets over the past eight weeks have made this clear — and we are now moving on to direct action,” the organizers said in a statement. “Tomorrow we will disrupt public order in the face of a government that is trying to disrupt the democratic order. Tens of thousands will go out to activities across the country to stop the regime coup, which has no support among the people.”

The Israel Police was preparing too, collecting intelligence on organizers’ plans and boosting forces in an attempt to minimize public disruption.

The police said in a statement Tuesday that Tel Aviv’s Hashalom Junction would be blocked from 7:45 a.m. in both directions. The force added that it would show “zero tolerance toward disruptions of order, harm to property and harm to government symbols,” and wouldn’t allow road-blocking that wasn’t coordinated ahead of time.

“We are preparing for spontaneous road-blocking,” an unnamed senior police source was quoted as saying by the Maariv news site. “[The organizers’] goal is definitely to act in many areas, so we will be there to react quickly and efficiently.”

“We know the protesters plan to come to the homes of members of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and police will be there too,” the official added, referring to the Knesset panel that has spearheaded the discussions on the overhaul plan. “We might not reach everyone, but we will be in places on which we have credible and exact information.”

The committee is set to hold a vote on Wednesday to advance part of the government’s contentious legal overhaul, which it has steamrolled through the legislative process in recent weeks.

The protest movement urged police to “ignore” the man they deemed a “schoolyard bully” — National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has received increased powers over police policy and has urged a tough hand against the anti-government protests. The organizers called on cops to “secure the democratic protest and give [Ben Gvir] spare time to do the only thing he is knowledgeable in — making TikTok videos.”

Opposition MKs raise Israeli flags to protest the government’s judicial overhaul plans, during a Knesset plenum session, February 20, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Meanwhile in the Knesset, the House Committee was set to discuss which committee would host discussions of two overhaul bills that passed their preliminary reading in the plenum last week, and will prepare them for the reading out of their remaining plenum votes before they become law.

One of these bills, aimed at reinstating Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister despite a High Court disqualification over his multiple past convictions, would eliminate court oversight on ministerial appointments, except for the basic requirements laid out in current laws.

The second bill would increase the government’s control of the Police Internal Investigations Department — a Justice Ministry body tasked with probing police wrongdoing — disconnecting it from the State Attorney’s Office and having the justice minister personally appoint its head.

Later in the day, the Knesset plenum was set to vote in a preliminary reading on a bill that would sharply reduce the circumstances under which the recusal of a prime minister could be ordered.

That government-pushed legislation follows media reports — since denied — that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara was considering forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a leave of absence for breaching the terms of a conflict of interest agreement he signed. The agreement bars him from dealing with the legal shakeup as it could affect the outcome of his ongoing corruption trial.

Parents and children hold signs and wave the Israeli flag as they protest the government’s planned legal overhaul in Tel Aviv, February 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Following is a schedule of the main planned protest activities, as announced by the organizers:

  • 8 a.m.: Demonstrations by parents and students outside dozens of schools across the country, including “lessons on democracy.”
  • 8 a.m.: Protests at various train stations, under the title “Stopping the legislative train.”
  • 8:30 a.m.: A rally outside Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, where the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) is taking place. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are set to take part in the conference. Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and MK Danny Danon, both of Likud, canceled their planned participation on Tuesday. Speaking at the protest will be former IDF chief Dan Halutz and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.
  • 10 a.m.: A march from Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center to Kaplan Street.
  • 10 a.m.: Protest convoys of agricultural vehicles leaving from about 70 kibbutzim across the country.
  • 11 a.m.: Protests by tech employees across the country.
  • 2 p.m.: An “emergency rally” by healthcare employees, titled “Without democracy, there is no health,” near the Tel Aviv District Court on Weitzmann Street.
  • 4 p.m.: A protest at Jerusalem’s Rose Garden, near the Knesset, coinciding with the start of the plenum session.
  • 5 p.m.: A “day of rage” event at Karkur Junction in the north.
  • 7 p.m.: until midnight: A protest near Netanyahu’s private residence on Jerusalem’s Gaza Street, and a march to President Isaac Herzog’s official residence.
  • 8 p.m.: A “rage protest” on Tel Aviv’s Shaul Hamelech Street.

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