Thousands of Israelis rallied nationwide against the government’s judicial overhaul, in a 37th week of protests that includeג a demonstration at the airport as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed for the United States.
Demonstrators in Tel Aviv began the evening by staging what they called “The Victory of Democracy March” from Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard, where the establishment of Israel was declared, to the main protest site at Kaplan Street. Many demonstrators were clad in white for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and some carried a large banner that declared: “The dictatorship will collapse.”
Others carried a large copy of the Declaration of Independence.
“It’s a duty to stand up against those who scorn the Declaration of Independence and are turning Israel into a dictatorship,” the Kaplan Force group said in a statement.
Along with the main rally in Tel Aviv, smaller protests were held at dozens of locations around the country, including in Jerusalem, Haifa, Rehovot, Eilat, Karkur, Kiryat Tevon and elsewhere.
Protesters later gathered at Ben Gurion Airport, where Netanyahu was departing for the US for a week-long visit that will include a series of meetings with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, among them a much-anticipated sit-down with US President Joe Biden.
By 11 p.m. several hundred protesters were outside the airport’s Terminal 3m any of them waving the national flag. Some chanted for Netanyahu to “Go and don’t come back”; others highlighted that he has not been invited to the White House.
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Protesters have vowed to follow Netanyahu on his trip abroad, and are expected to hound him during his scheduled meetings in San Francisco and later in New York.
Expat activists have proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of government ministers and Knesset members during recent visits to New York and other cities in the US, using a network of sympathizers to pursue the lawmakers wherever they appear, ensuring that they find no safe haven abroad from the political discord at home.
Earlier this week, activists projected a giant message onto the UN Headquarters building in New York, saying: “Don’t believe Crime Minister Netanyahu. Protect Israeli democracy.” Activists said the message was projected onto the building for about 30 minutes.
“The slogan projected on the UN building wall is just a small taste of what is awaiting the indicted defendant Netanyahu on his visit to NYC,” the New York protesters say in a statement.
“We will be waiting to greet him. In the air, on land and at sea. The whole world will know that Netanyahu is a liar. We will not allow him to disgrace Israel and deceive world leaders with his speeches.”
The weekly protests are usually held on Saturdays but were pushed off to Sunday this week because of the holiday.
References to the Declaration of Independence featured heavily in Saturday’s protests after a lawyer representing Netanyahu’s government at the High Court of Justice sparked an uproar this week when he dismissed Israel’s foundational document as a “hasty” document endorsed by unelected signatories, arguing that cannot be a source of legal authority.
Ilan Bombach did so during a high-stakes hearing on petitions against the first major piece of judicial overhaul legislation passed by the government — a law that prohibits courts from striking down cabinet and ministerial decisions based on their being “unreasonable.”
At the hearing, several justices enumerated the view that the Knesset’s authority to legislate derives from the 1948 Declaration of Independence, which defines Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Arguing that the Knesset cannot legislate laws — even Basic Laws — that erode Israel’s Jewish or democratic character, the judges indicated that the court thus had the authority to police those guardrails.
But Bombach, who is representing the government in the High Court since Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has refused to do so in the case, replied that the signatories of the foundational document were unelected and that it was “unthinkable” to say the declaration must “bind all future generations.”
An unprecedented panel of all 15 justices presided over the highly charged session, and will issue their decision at a later date.
The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program which has been passed by the Knesset so far. Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, it has faced massive opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.