'National day of paralysis' planned for Thursday

Tel Aviv, Jerusalem anti-overhaul protests target ministers Regev, Goldknopf, Zohar

Convoys circle Knesset as committee debates judicial appointments bill; demonstrators rally outside Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, some interrupt housing minister’s speech

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Minister of Housing Yitzhak Goldknopf  speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on March 22, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Minister of Housing Yitzhak Goldknopf speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on March 22, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Protests against the government’s judicial overhaul took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Wednesday with several targeting government ministers as the coalition pushed ahead with its controversial plans.

Police blocked entrances to the Knesset as a protest convoy circled the area with horns honking in opposition to the proposed legislation, while the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussed the judicial appointments bill.

In Tel Aviv, military reservist protesters gathered at a junction near the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, where Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf and Transportation Minister Miri Regev were set to arrive for an Israel Lands Authority conference later in the morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also scheduled to attend the conference but canceled, though it was unclear why.

Led by former deputy IDF chief of staff Dan Harel, protesters marched down the Namir thoroughfare to the museum to demonstrate. A few protesters managed to break into the hall where Goldknopf was speaking and interrupted him before they were removed by security.

Harel, also a former director of the Defense Ministry, called a recent “softened” legislative proposal “a mask, which they placed over the main change they wanted to bring about, and that is control of the Supreme Court.”

“After they take control, every decision that they make in the form of legislation can be approved through this ‘softened’ outline, and we are on the verge of a dictatorship,” Harel told Channel 12.

On reservists who are refusing to serve, Harel said “people declared they will not volunteer for reserve duty in the situation where there is a dictatorship.”

Protesters against the government’s planned judicial overhaul outside an Israel Lands Authority conference, in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Increasingly, reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have warned they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which they charge the country will become under the government’s plan.

In the central city of Kfar Saba, dozens of demonstrators protested Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar’s appearance at a cinema event held at the Oshiland Mall.

The minister was forced to cancel his attendance and was escorted out of the shopping center by security.

The demonstrations took place as the Knesset was moving closer to approving a bill that will give the government control of most judicial appointments if passed in its current form.

The committee reviewing the bill is expected to advance the measure on Wednesday and the final Knesset votes for the bill to become law are expected to be held next week before the Knesset takes a monthlong break in April.

Minister of Transportation Miri Regev speaks at an Israel Lands Authority conference, in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

As the government plowed ahead, protest organizers said they were planning another day of disruptions in opposition to the proposals, dubbed a “national day of paralysis,” on Thursday.

Plans included disrupting traffic around Ben Gurion Airport in anticipation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to London, and blocking access to public transportation.

Protesters also announced they will protest a convention held at the nearby Airport City business park set to be attended by Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and Economy Minister Nir Barkat.

Rallies were planned for Thursday morning in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during a session of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The main rally, scheduled for 7 p.m., was expected to depart from Ayalon Mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, to Bnei Brak.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman (center) heads a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in Jerusalem on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protests were also scheduled to take place outside the homes of coalition lawmakers.

Several academic institutions have announced their plans to allow their students to protest without consequences or declared that classes will not take place on Thursday.

In Kfar Saba, Beit Berl College announced classes would not be held, Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design said discussion circles would be run in place of classes, and the Technion in Haifa said that the institution would close for three hours.

Tel Aviv University will not suspend classes but its Faculty of Social Sciences said it would allow lecturers to do as they please. The Ben Gurion University of the Negev will not close at all, but has encouraged faculty and students to participate in protests.

Reichman University in Herzliya announced that classes will run as normal, but due to expected transportation disruptions, will not take attendance. Rupin College and the Seminar Hakibbutzim said they would allow lecturers to strike if they wish. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has yet to announce a decision on the matter.

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul bills in the Tel Aviv, March 18, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

According to the Haaretz daily on Tuesday, Education Minister Yoav Kisch told a meeting of the Council of Higher Education that he was disappointed to see “institutions insisting on getting involved and bringing political views into academics in a one-sided way, and thereby harming the institutions they lead and academia as a whole.”

For 11 weeks, protesters have rallied against the government’s plan, which as it stands will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

While supporters say the judicial overhaul will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the moves will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, putting democracy in peril.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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